Modeling postbreakup landscape development and denudational history across the southeast African (Drakensberg Escarpment) margin

Peter van der Beek, Michael A. Summerfield*, Jean Braun, Roderick W. Brown, Alastair Fleming

*Corresponding author for this work

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    124 Citations (Scopus)


    We employ a numerical surface processes model to study the controls on postbreakup landscape development and denudational history of the southeast African margin. Apatite fission track data, presented in the companion paper, suggest that the Drakensberg Escarpment formed by rapid postbreakup river incision seaward of a preexisting drainage divide, located close to its present position, and subsequently retreated at rates of only ∼100 m m.y.-1. Numerical modeling results support such a scenario and show that the prebreakup topography of the margin has exerted a fundamental control on subsequent margin evolution. The rheology of the lithosphere, lithological variations in the eroding upper crust, and inland base level falls provided secondary controls. A relatively low flexural rigidity of the lithosphere (Te ≈ 10 km) is required to explain the observed pattern of denudation as well as the observed geological structure of the southeast African margin. Lithological variations have contributed to the formation of flat-topped ridges buttressing the main escarpment, as well as major fluvial knickpoints. Both these features have previously been interpreted as supporting significant Cenozoic uplift of the margin. An inland base level fall, possibly related to back-cutting of the Orange River drainage system and occurring 40-50 m.y. after breakup, explains the observed denudation inland of the escarpment as well as the development of inland drainage parallel to the escarpment. Our model results suggest that in contrast to widely accepted inferences from classical geomorphic studies, the southeast African margin has remained tectonically stable since breakup and escarpment retreat has been minimal (<25 km).

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)ETG 11-1 - 11-18
    JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2002


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