The erosional and Cainozoic depositional history of the Lower Orange River, southwestern Africa
A series of terraces flanking the Lower Orange River in the study area were deposited after ca. 90% of the incision had occurred, thus only the late stage incision/depositional history of this margin is able to be addressed here. Two principal suites of river terraces are distinguished by their palaeo-courses, bedrock strath levels, overall geometry and clast assemblages: an older, higher lying Proto suite and a younger Meso suite. The Proto suite represents a long, post-Eocene, through the Oligocene into the Early Miocene, phase of incision, followed by a prolonged period of aggradation where up to 90 m of fluvial, diamondiferous deposits accumulated during the Early-Middle Miocene. The Meso suite of deposits represents shorter phrases of incision and aggradation in the Pilo-Pleistocene. The Proto and Meso deposits were built in response to both base level rise and increased supply of material from tributaries draining the Great Escarpment locally, with clast assemblage and downstream fining data indicating the latter to be the more important variable. River incision into bedrock is a topic of great interest to fluvial geomorphologists, although most data are derived from active tectonic settings. The incision of a large river into a plateau surface is relatively rare, the best known example being the Colorado River in the young (6 Ma) Grand Canyon. The Orange River in the study area represents a long-lived example of this setting, with the present day dissected topography having evolved from more confined canyon-like walls following the early incision of the Orange River in the Early Tertiary. Although a long-lived incision, the modern channel is not graded in the study area, and is actively incising. The world-wide dataset of incision rates in modern rivers indicates that the Orange River could have completed its entire incision within less than a million years. The continued downcutting of this river so long after the initial incision event is indicative of the roles of intermittent, ongoing epeirogenesis and/or eustatic influences (both of which cannot be proven at this stage), tributary input from the plateau rim (Great Escarpment) or merely the long tag time involved in landscape adjustment following incision into a plateau surface.