The sedimentary dynamics of active fluvial channels on the Okavango fan, Botswana



The 1800-km2 Okavango alluvial fan of northern Botswana represents an unusual depositional setting in which peat-forming perennial swamps (6000 km2) occur in a region of aeolian and semi-arid sedimentation within an incipient graben of the East African Rift. A channel system distributes water and sediment on the fan surface but cannot contain seasonal flood water, which spreads laterally from the channels through permeable channel margins, sustaining the flanking swamps. All sediment introduced is deposited on the fan. A detailed study of sediment movement and associated hydrological conditions in the channels was undertaken to examine sediment dispersal. Bedload greatly exceeds suspended load (at least by a factor of four). Vegetation and peat form permeable levees which confine the channels. In the upper reaches, two-way exchange of water occurs between channel and swamp depending on the season, but on the fan itself, channels lose water to the swamp. Bedload measurements reveal that the channel system is in a state of grade disequilibrium, with interspersed depositional and erosional reaches. Deposition of most of the incoming bedload occurs on the upper portion of the fan in a meandering and anastomosed channel system, but on the midfan, deposition of bedload occurs by channel-bed aggradation, at a rate of up to 5 cm yr–1. Further down slope, the channel enters a large lake where all remaining bedload is deposited. The presently observed sedimentation patterns may be due to a recent disturbance of the fluvial system, either by avulsion or neotectonics.