Lacustrine wave-dominated clastic shorelines: modern to ancient littoral landforms and deposits from the Lake Turkana Basin (East African Rift System, Kenya)

Original paper


This paper presents an overview of some of the most significant, recent to ancient, littoral morpho-sedimentary structures and deposits from the Lake Turkana Basin. We highlight the importance of wave-related sedimentary processes in lakes, and more specifically in rift lakes. In the published literature, references to wave-dominated shorelines are mainly in regards to coastal marine environments. However, numerous modern lakes exhibit typical wave-dominated littoral landforms, and related sedimentary deposits are known from several paleolake successions in the geological record. Wave-related processes are often of relatively minor importance in depositional models for lacustrine environments. Classical models emphasize clastics transported by rivers, which are then distributed by fan-deltas and/or deltas into a water body of fluctuating depth, where reworking of clastics is limited in the littoral domain, and episodic in deep waters. Modern processes in Lake Turkana and the exposed paleolake deposits of the Turkana Basin demonstrate that this view is incomplete. Wave-dominated shorelines are evident (1) for modern Lake Turkana based on prominent and active littoral landforms (e.g., beach ridges, sand spits, washover fans, and arcuate-cuspate deltas); (2) for the Holocene (African Humid Period) climate-driven highstand of Megalake Turkana and its subsequent forced regression based on conspicuous raised beach ridges and spits; and (3) for the Pliocene–Pleistocene (Omo Group, Nachukui Formation) from typical nearshore sedimentary facies and stratigraphic architectures associated with paleolake Turkana. These examples from the Turkana Basin coupled with examples from other lacustrine settings, suggest that wave-dominated clastic shorelines represent significant portions of existing and ancient lake-shores. As this view contrasts with classic depositional models for lakes, notably for those found in rift setting, we also present examples of wave-influenced littoral landforms from other lakes of the East African Rift System. Identifying lacustrine paleoshorelines from typical clastic landforms and deposits is the key to the spatial reconstruction of lakes over time, and to determine transgressive–regressive cycles. Waves action is an important agent in lakes for the erosion, transport, and deposition of clastics at the basin-scale, an aspect that needs to be integrated in sedimentary models.


Beach ridges Spits Nearshore Washover fan Lake margins 



The idea for this paper emerged while surveying the geology of the western side of the Turkana Depression with Jean-Jacques Tiercelin (aka Double-Mzee) in 2004 and over the following years. This research was made possible through a post-doctoral grant attributed to MS by CNRS at “Domaines Océaniques” (UMR 6538, University of Western Brittany, Brest), and a research grant from the INSU-Eclipse program. We warmly thank the MPK-WTAP team (S. Harmand, J. Lewis, S. Prat, H. Roche, N. Taylor, J.-P. Brugal, X. Boes) for sharing their remarquable camp facilities at Topernawi Laga. Field work from the past 2 years and the funding for AN at IPGS/CNRS was possible through a research grant from TOTAL (RiLakS—Rift Lake Sedimentology; MS). Satellite imagery (SPOT and PLEIADES) was acquired at a special rate thanks to CNES/ISIS and Theia/Equipex-Geosud. We thank INSU-SYSTER for partial funding the SPLASH project (SPits are the ultimate archive of LAke SHorelines). This work was conducted under a research permit attributed by NACOSTI. National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK) is warmly thanked for their partnership (S. Hassan-Athmani, K. Nyagah, G. Muia, A. Karanja, A. Ofafa, P. Thuo and J. Kibor). We are extremely grateful to our guides, Francis Emekui Ekai and Sammy Lokorodi from Nariokotome village, for their outstanding field assistance. We thank the French embassy in Kenya for help and support. J.-L. Rubino, M. Bez, M. Lescanne, J.-F. Ghienne, N. Robin, M. Diraison, F. Bouchette, J.-R. Boisserie and T. Ragon are warmly thanked for fruitful discussions. This paper was greatly improved thanks to the reviews provided by two anonymous reviewers. We are grateful to Murray Hay (Maxafeau Editing Services) for verifying the English of the text. We thank the organization committee of ILIC6 (Reno NV, 2015), and particularly Michael Rosen and his team for coordination of this volume and his endless patience. Finally, at this time we are remembering Elizabeth Gierlowski-Kordesch.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CNRS, Institut de Physique du Globe de Strasbourg, UMR 7516Université de StrasbourgStrasbourgFrance
  2. 2.Department of GeoscienceAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark

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