The inorganic chemistry of peat from the Maunachira channel-swamp system, Okavango Delta, Botswana

T. S. McCarthy, J. R. McIver, B. Cairncross, W. N. Ellery, Karen Ellery

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48 Citations (Scopus)


The Okavango Delta is a large (18000 km2), low gradient (1:3600), alluvial fan situated in the semi-arid Kalahari basin of northern Botswana. Seasonal floodwaters from tropical Angola disperse on the fan creating both perennial (6000 km2) and seasonal (7000 to 12000 km2) swamps. Ninety-five percent of this water is lost annually by evapotranspiration. Organic rich sediment (peat) is a major sediment of the perennial swamps. Peat formation commences during senescence of the plants, when certain nutrients are recycled while others are lost by rainwater leaching. Further changes in chemistry occur during subaqueous decay of the plants which involve both gains and losses of constituents. Decaying plants trap detrital mineral matter which becomes an integral part of the peat. The main sources and forms of inorganic matter in the peat are: allochthonous kaolinite (40%) and quartz (20%) and both allochthonous and autochthonous phytolithic silica (30%). Several inorganic components (Fe, K, P, Na, Ca and Mg) which make up the remaining 10% are associated with the organic fraction. Ion exchange plays only a minor part in their uptake and it seems that these metals are taken up during bacterial activity in the peat. The weight proportion of inorganic matter (ash) decreases downstream, mainly due to a decrease in allochthonous mineral matter. Volume percentage also decreases but is low throughout, generally less than five percent. This study has revealed that the low-quantity allochthonous mineral matter is the main reason for the long-term survival of this ecosystem. Uptake of soluble ions by the peat is important in off-setting evaporative concentration of metals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1077-1089
Number of pages13
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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