Disappearing Tsauchab River

December 07, 2005

Sossusvlei31 copy

Provided and copyright by: Greg Vaughan, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary authors & editors: Greg Vaughan

The Tsauchab River, which drains the south-central Namibian highlands, flows west and disappears 55 km short of the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the Namib Desert (southwest Africa). Sossusvlei is the terminus of the Tsauchab River -- 'vlei' is an Afrikaans word that's equivalent to playa, pan, dry lake bed, or any shallow basin intermittently filled with water. This area is rarely wet (rainfall <1 cm/year), but manages to support resilient vegetation and wildlife. The surface of the vlei is hard-packed sandy clay and is surrounded by reddish (iron-oxide-stained) quartz sand dunes. Located in the Namib-Naukluft Park, the largest conservation area in Africa, this area of the Namib Desert is home to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world (up to 300 m of relief) and is also considered the oldest desert in the world (estimated to be at least 80 million years old).

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