Erosion rates and weathering timescales in the eastern Great Escarpment, South Africa

Tebogo V. Makhubela, Jan D. Kramers, Sibusiso M. Konyana, Herman S. van Niekerk, Stephan R. Winkler

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The eastern escarpment in South Africa has a combination of geology and climate that is unique in the entire Great Escarpment. Yet, no studies have been undertaken before to quantify the landscape changes at this locality. In this study, we assess the denudation history of the eastern escarpment using cosmogenic beryllium-10 (10Be) on quartz from rock outcrops and river sediments, and carry out uranium‑thorium‑helium ((U,Th)-He) and argon‑argon (40Ar/39Ar) dating of Fe-oxides and Mn-oxides, respectively, in the soils. The erosion rates obtained on the eastern escarpment vary from 1.8 m/Ma to 24 m/Ma and are similar in range to values from the entire Great Escarpment. We found that the catchment-averaged erosion rates of the gentle catchments above the eastern escarpment are lower, whereas those from steep catchments draining the escarpment edge are higher. We also determined that the catchment-average erosion rates of the eastern escarpment are similar to those of the western escarpment in Namibia, lower than those of the Drakensberg Escarpment and lower than those of the Lowveld adjacent to it. The 40Ar/39Ar dating of cryptomelane-bearing Mn nodules yield Palaeoproterozoic ages unrelated to the pedogenic processes, and might indicate that these nodules are not pedogenic, but inherited from weathered bedrock. The (U,Th)-He ages of goethite concretions range from 0.85 Ma to 1.05 Ma and they date the last period of intensive chemical weathering on the eastern escarpment, which coincides with the Mid-Pleistocene Transition from humid to more arid conditions on the southern African subcontinent. Given the low erosion rates above the escarpment, an area that experiences intensive chemical weathering, and the high erosion rates down the escarpment we conclude that at the eastern escarpment, pediplanation is a more important driver of denudation than peneplanation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120368
JournalChemical Geology
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2021


  • (U-Th)-He dating
  • Ar/Ar dating
  • Cosmogenic nuclides
  • Fe-Mn-oxides
  • Great Escarpment
  • Southern Africa landscape

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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