Something's up with the weather in Namibia, say geoscientists Kyle Nichols of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Paul Bierman of the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt.
Nichols and Bierman should know. They're just back from the western mountains and coastal plain of this sparsely populated African country.
Usually, western Namibia is a dusty place where the stream beds are sand and the "lakes" are nothing more than flats of dried mud.
This year, rivers with names like Swakop and Omaruru and Kuiseb flowed all the way to the sea--something they don't do often, "maybe once a decade," says Bierman.
The rivers didn't just flow for a day or two, Nichols and Bierman say, they ran from the desert to the ocean for weeks on end.
"There was so much water," says Bierman, "that people went swimming, they went tubing, and the desert turned green around rivers carrying so much sediment they were chocolate-brown."
The rains were unprecedented in both their intensity and duration. "There's nothing like this widespread, heavy rain in the historic record," says Nichols.
The two geoscientists have been working for more than a decade in Namibia, collecting samples of rock and river sediment and bringing them back for analysis at the University of Vermont (see Cosmogenic Nuclide Laboratory and Geomorphology Research Group's website).
Their goal is to understand how quickly Namibia's arid lands are eroding, "both the spectacular bedrock outcrops, and the landscape's drainage basins as a whole," says Nichols.
After the recent Namibian rains, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Nichols and Bierman a rapid response grant to travel quickly back to the country last month.
There they collected river sediment and rock at many of the sites they had sampled in 1997, 2001 and 2010.
Their hope is to discover whether sediment carried by rivers in
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation