Geology and geochronology of the Nyl River floodplain sediments, Limpopo province, South Africa

Colarossi, Debra
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The Nyl River floodplain, located in the Limpopo Province, is one of the few active sedimentary basins that exist within the South African interior, providing a unique opportunity to study the effect of climate change on fluvial systems. Progradation of tributary fans into the Nyl/Mogalakwena River has raised the surface by 30 m and forced the course of the river westwards towards the Waterberg. Periods of progradation deposited thick sequences of coarse-grained sediments with sand- to gravel-sized mean grain sizes and coarsely-skewed populations in the distal reaches of the tributary fans. These periods were interspersed with periods of relative non-deposition, when active sedimentation on the fan ceased and shallow lakes (or vleis) developed in the trunk river, resulting in deposition of fine-grained, organic-rich, floodplain sediment layers with silt-sized mean grain sizes and finely-skewed distributions in the extreme outer reaches of the tributary fan. The alternating progradational sequences and non-deposition events produced interlayered floodplain and fan deposits in the furthest reaches of the tributary fans along the banks of the Nyl/Mogalakwena River. Incised river cuts within the Rooisloot tributary fan were dated using OSL and 14C techniques. For OSL samples, the SAR protocol was used to measure the equivalent dose and the burial dose was determined using the CAM and MAM. Emission counting methods, including TSAC, GM-beta counting and HRGS were used to determine the dose-rate. The OSL ages ranged from 99 years to 3884 years, constraining the sampled deposits within the late Holocene. Although the 14C ages agreed with this range, carbon contamination of the samples resulted in inverted and overestimated ages. Based on stratigraphic relationships the non-deposition events have been dated at approximately 750–800 years ago, 600 years ago, 475 years BP and 100–150 years ago and two major periods of aggradation at ~ 800–1000 years ago and ~ 500–700 years ago. The rate of aggradation (0.29 cm/year) calculated implies that the entire 30 m deposit could have been deposited in 9 000 years. However, an independent study by McCarthy et al. (2011) proved that tributary sedimentation began prior to 220 ka. Therefore, in order to deposit 30 m of sediment over 220 ka, either the mid – late Quaternary sedimentation rate was lower than the recent past (Late Holocene) or the system periodically undergoes extensive erosion in order to flush the accumulated sediment from the tributary fan system.
A Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Geology. Johannesburg 2013