March 20, 2014
(2 June 2011) --- Okavango Swamp in Botswana is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 28 crew member on the International Space Station. This short focal-length photograph shows the entire Okavango "delta," a swampland known in Southern Africa as the "Jewel of the Kalahari Desert". This enormous pristine wetland of forest, wildlife, and freshwater almost miraculously appears in a desert where surface water is typically non-existent. The water comes from the Okavango River which rises in the high-rainfall zone of southern Angola, hundreds of kilometers to the northwest. The dark green forested floodplain is approximately 10 kilometers wide where it enters the view (left). The Okavango then enters a rift basin which allows the river to spread out, forming the wetland. The width of the rift determines the dimensions of the delta—150 kilometers from apex to the linear downstream margin (right). The apex fault is more difficult to discern, but two fault lines actually define the downstream margin; the fault traces are indicated by linear stream channels and vegetation patterns oriented at nearly right angles to the southeast-trending distributary channels at center. The distributary channels carry sediment from the Okavango River that is deposited within the rift basin. Over time, a fan-shaped morphology of the deposits has developed, leading to characterization of the wetland as the Okavango "delta". The drying trend from higher rainfall in the north (left) to less rainfall in central Botswana (right) is shown by the change from the greens of denser savanna vegetation to browns of an open "thornscrub" savanna. More subtle distinctions appear: the distributary arms of the delta include tall, permanent riverine and seasonal forest (dark green), with grasses and other savanna vegetation (light green) on floodplains—which appear well watered in this image. Linear dunes, emplaced by constant winds from the east during drier climates, appear as straight lines at left. The dunes are 10 meters high and their sands hold enough moisture for some trees to grow on them. Counter-intuitively, the low "streets" between the dunes are treeless because they are dominated by dense dry white soils known as calcretes.
Topics: Environment, Geography of Africa, Water, Physical geography, Floodplains, Okavango River, Distributary, Okavango, Okavango Delta, River delta, Fluvial landforms, Swamps, Kalahari Desert