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McCarthy, T.S. 2006. Groundwater in the wetlands of the Okavango Delta, Botswana, and its contribution to the structure and function of the ecosystem. Journal of Hydrology, 320(3–4): 264–282


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Groundwater in the wetlands of the Okavango Delta, Botswana, and its contribution to the structure and function of the ecosystem.

Summary / Notes:

rnThe Okavango Delta of northern Botswana is a large (40,000 km2) alluvial fan located at the terminus of the Okavango River. The river discharges about 10 km3 of water onto the fan each year, augmented by about 6 km3 of rainfall, which sustains about 2500 km2 of permanent wetland and up to 8000 km2 of seasonal wetland. Interaction between this surface water and the groundwater strongly influences the structure and function of the wetland ecosystem. The climate is semi-arid, and only 2% of the water leaves as surface flow and probably very little as groundwater flow. The bulk of the water is lost to the atmosphere. The Okavango River also delivers about 170,000 tonnes of bedload sediment and about 360,000 tonnes of solutes to the Delta each year, most of which are deposited on the fan. Bedload is deposited in the proximal, permanent wetland, whilst much of the solute load is deposited in the seasonal wetland. Notwithstanding the high evapotranspirational loss, saline surface water is rare. Between 80 and 90% of the seasonal flood water infiltrates the ground, recharging the groundwater beneath the flood plains and the many islands on the flood plains. The remainder is lost by evaporation. This groundwater reservoir is transpired into the atmosphere by both aquatic vegetation on the flood plains and terrestrial vegetation on the islands, and the water table is steadily lowered following passage of the seasonal flood. Trees, which are almost exclusively confined to islands, are particularly important, as they lower the water table beneath islands relative to the surrounding wetlands. There is therefore a net flow of groundwater towards islands. Accumulation of dissolved salts in this groundwater leads to precipitation of solutes (mainly of silica and calcite) in the soils beneath island fringes and the islands grow by vertical expansion. Islands are thus an expression of the chemical sedimentation taking place on the fan. Sodium bicarbonate accumulates in the groundwater beneath island centres, and this impacts on the vegetation, leading ultimately to barren island interiors. Dense saline brine thus produced subsides under density-driven flow. This cycling of seasonal flood water through the groundwater reservoir thus plays a key role in creating and maintaining the biological and habitat diversity of the wetland, and inhibits the formation of saline surface water. Keywords: Okavango Delta, Groundwater, Groundwater recharge, Transpiration, Salt accumulation.

Year: 2006

Type: Journal Article

URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022169405003501


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