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Flood bench chronology and sediment source tracing in the upper Thina catchment, South Africa: the role of transformed landscape connectivity

  • IASWS 2014: The Interactions Between Sediments and Water
  • Published:
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Sediment pressures can be increased by transformed landscape connectivity in catchments worldwide. The upper Thina catchment, an important high rainfall water resource in the northern Eastern Cape, South Africa, is used to explore how ongoing subsistence farming on communal land (overgrazing and trampling) has initiated large erosive features and increased sediment loads.

Materials and methods

The headwaters of the Thina catchment are underlain by igneous parent lithology and the lower catchment by sedimentary rock lithology, making it ideal for sediment tracing using mineral magnetic signatures. Floodplain cores were dated using 210Pb and 137Cs techniques, and core sediment was traced to hillslope sources using quantitative (unmixing model) and semi-qualitative approaches.

Results and discussion

Sediment accumulation rates varied between 0.2 and 3.3 g cm−2 year−1 (92+ years old) for the higher flood benches and 0.6 and 11 g cm−2 year−1 (46–60 years old) for the lower flood benches. It was found that a semi-qualitative approach based on low-frequency magnetic susceptibility (Xlf) could be used to effectively trace and apportion sediment in a catchment with strongly contrasting lithologies. The tracing results showed that over the past century the dominant sediment source for flood benches has been local sedimentary rock sources, with upstream igneous rock sources making a smaller contribution. It is proposed that igneous rock-dominated sediment from the upper catchment is temporarily stored until larger events transport it to the lower catchment.


Sediment stored in flood benches was mostly from the adjacent sedimentary rock sources despite the larger area of the igneous formation in the catchment. This shows the vulnerability of the sedimentary formation to land use change and pressures.

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We would like to thank the Water Research Commission of South Africa and the Natural Resource Management Programme of the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa for funding.

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Correspondence to Bennie van der Waal.

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Responsible editor: Ian Foster

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van der Waal, B., Rowntree, K. & Pulley, S. Flood bench chronology and sediment source tracing in the upper Thina catchment, South Africa: the role of transformed landscape connectivity. J Soils Sediments 15, 2398–2411 (2015).

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