, Volume 739, Issue 1, pp 25–53 | Cite as

Dynamics of a Kalahari long-lived mega-lake system: hydromorphological and limnological changes in the Makgadikgadi Basin (Botswana) during the terminal 50 ka

  • Frank RiedelEmail author
  • Andrew C. G. Henderson
  • Karl-U. Heußner
  • Georg Kaufmann
  • Annette Kossler
  • Christian Leipe
  • Elisha Shemang
  • Linda Taft


The Kalahari features a long-lived lacustrine system which may exist since the Early Pleistocene. The emergence of an extant cichlid fish radiation from this (palaeo-) lake during the Middle Pleistocene indicates an ancient lake character. The early history of the system remains speculative, but it is established that lake extensions matching modern Lake Victoria in size have occurred during the Late Pleistocene. It has been assumed that the hydrographical dynamics chiefly depended on the inflow from the Okavango River and thus on ITCZ-controlled precipitation. Our studies, which focused the hydromorphological and palaeolimnological development of the Makgadikgadi Basin during the last 50 ka, suggest that from c. 46–16 ka it did not receive water from the Okavango River but from palaeo-rivers located in the northern and south-western catchment. A northward shift of the winter rainfall zone during the Last Glacial Maximum sustained a high lake level for a period of c. 6 ka. During Heinrich Event 1 (17–16 ka) the lake probably desiccated abruptly and completely. Higher lake levels, controlled by water from the Okavango river system, were reached again during the Holocene before the lake dried up in the middle of the last millennium.


Southern hemisphere Kalahari Desert Long-lived lacustrine system Basin geomorphology Palaeolimnology Palaeolake modelling 



We appreciate the field assistance of Kai Hartmann, Mareike Schmidt, Caroline Seidig, Franziska Slotta, Imke Steinmöller and Shuping Zhang (all FU Berlin, Germany). Sebastian Erhardt (Imperial College, London, UK) conducted D-GPS measurements in 2007 and 2008. Michael Taft (Abenden, Germany) arranged the aerial survey of the Middle Kalahari in 2011. Many thanks go to Klaus Heine (University of Regensburg, Germany) for sharing information on the Makgadikgadi Basin and to Tomasz Goslar (Poznań Radiocarbon Laboratory, Poland) for calculating radiocarbon dates of modern shells in respect of hard water effect. Maike Glos (FU Berlin) processed sediment samples and Jan Evers (FU Berlin) improved Figs. 3 and 4. We are grateful to many helpful people in Botswana providing particular information, to the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water of Botswana for granting a research permit, and to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft for financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank Riedel
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Andrew C. G. Henderson
    • 3
  • Karl-U. Heußner
    • 4
  • Georg Kaufmann
    • 1
  • Annette Kossler
    • 1
  • Christian Leipe
    • 1
  • Elisha Shemang
    • 5
  • Linda Taft
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Geological SciencesFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Plateau Lake Ecology and Global ChangeYunnan Normal UniversityKunmingChina
  3. 3.School of Geography, Politics and SociologyNewcastle UniversityNewcastle Upon TyneUK
  4. 4.Scientific Department of the Head OfficeDeutsches Archäologisches InstitutBerlinGermany
  5. 5.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesBotswana International University of Science and TechnologyGaboroneBotswana

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