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Palaeohydrology of the Fazzan Basin and surrounding regions: The last 7 million years

Drake, N. A., El-Hawat, A. S., Turner, P., Armitage, S. J., Salem, M. J., White, K. H. and McLaren, S. (2008) Palaeohydrology of the Fazzan Basin and surrounding regions: The last 7 million years. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, 263 (3-4). pp. 131-145. ISSN 0031-0182

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2008.02.005


We have integrated information on topography, geology and geomorphology with the results of targeted fieldwork in order to develop a chronology for the development of Lake Megafazzan, a giant lake that has periodically existed in the Fazzan Basin since the late Miocene. The development of the basin can be best understood by considering the main geological and geomorphological events that occurred thought Libya during this period and thus an overview of the palaeohydrology of all Libya is also presented. The origin of the Fazzan Basin appears to lie in the Late Miocene. At this time Libya was dominated by two large rivers systems that flowed into the Mediterranean Sea, the Sahabi River draining central and eastern Libya and the Wadi Nashu River draining much of western Libya. As the Miocene progressed the region become increasingly affected by volcanic activity on its northern and eastern margin that appears to have blocked the River Nashu in Late Miocene or early Messinian times forming a sizeable closed basin in the Fazzan within which proto-Lake Megafazzan would have developed during humid periods. The fall in base level associated with the Messinian desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea promoted down-cutting and extension of river systems throughout much of Libya. To the south of the proto Fazzan Basin the Sahabi River tributary know as Wadi Barjuj appears to have expanded its headwaters westwards. The channel now terminates at Al Haruj al Aswad. We interpret this as a suggestion that Wadi Barjuj was blocked by the progressive development of Al Haruj al Aswad. K/Ar dating of lava flows suggests that this occurred between 4 and 2 Ma. This event would have increased the size of the closed basin in the Fazzan by about half, producing a catchment close to its current size (-350,000 km(2)). The Fazzan Basin contains a wealth of Pleistocene to recent palaeolake sediment outcrops and shorelines. Dating of these features demonstrates evidence of lacustrine conditions during numerous interglacials spanning a period greater than 420 ka. The middle to late Pleistocene interglacials were humid enough to produce a giant lake of about 135,000 km(2) that we have called Lake Megafazzan. Later lake phases were smaller, the interglacials less humid, developing lakes of a few thousand square kilometres. In parallel with these palaeohydrological developments in the Fazzan Basin, change was occurring in other parts of Libya. The Lower Pliocene sea level rise caused sediments to infill much of the Messinian channel system. As this was occurring, subsidence in the Al Kufrah Basin caused expansion of the Al Kufrah River system at the expense of the River Sahabi. By the Pleistocene, the Al Kufrah River dominated the palaeohydrology of eastern Libya and had developed a very large inland delta in its northern reaches that exhibited a complex distributary channel network which at times fed substantial lakes in the Sirt Basin. At this time Libya was a veritable lake district during humid periods with about 10% of the country underwater. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Earth Systems Science
ID Code:3483
Uncontrolled Keywords:Lake Megafazzan Sahabi River Libya palaeoclimate SAHARA MIOCENE AFRICA HUMIDITY MONSOON CLIMATE CHAD
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