Holocene evolution of the Anichab Pan on the south-west coast of Namibia

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Abstract

Coastal sediment-filled depressions (pans) are one of the few areas that contain Quaternary records of sea-level and palaeoenvironmental change along the western margin of southern Africa. Anichab is a 128 km2 salt-encrusted pan on the hyper-arid southern coast of Namibia with an emergent, well-preserved and in-place mid-Holocene mollusc assemblage. The molluscs are typical of subtidal sands on the sheltered side of offshore islands but include several warm-water species no longer found living along this coast. The Holocene evolution of the pan was largely influenced by changes in sea level and supply of sand along the coast. Calibrated radiocarbon ages of mollusc shells indicate a maximum Holocene sea level of ca 2 m above mean sea level (msl) from 7·0 to 6·3 ka and a return to near present-day sea level by 5·3 ka. The pan surface is 2 m below msl and has been emergent since 4·9 ka from the build up of sandy beaches and coastal dunes. A thin (1–4 cm) halite crust occurs over much of the pan surface but a layer of halite-cemented sand up to 40 cm thick is restricted to the central pan. Gypsum occurs near the subsurface brine interface and is limited by calcium to the edges of the pan. Nodules of calcite-cemented sand are forming in brackish, relatively high alkalinity subsurface waters in the south-east corner of the pan and nodules of aragonite-cemented sand are forming in brines 1 m below the central pan surface. Although modern dolomite has been reported from coastal lagoons of Brazil and Australia, carbonate cements are a minor feature of Anichab Pan and dolomite was restricted to a single reworked nodule most likely of Late Pleistocene age. Therefore, Anichab Pan does not appear to be a modern analogue to extensive, mixed-water dolomite cements found in Upper Pleistocene sediment-filled depressions on the Namibian shelf.

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