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Geology   

Overview

South Africa is underpinned by one of the oldest rock formations to have formed on earth. The Kaapvaal Craton formed in excess of 3,600 million years ago, and has remained floating on the surface of the planet ever since, anchoring surrounding cooling rocks around it over subsequent aeons.

By 3 billion years ago it was the size of the state of Texas and, as such, is the largest structure geologists have identified from that time. Together with the West African and Congo cratons, the Kaapvaal formed a pivot around which, current theorists believe, the rest of today's continents crystallised- the original supercontinent of Pangaea.

Subsequently this singular land mass fragmented into Laurasia, which drifted off to the north, and Gondwanaland, which fragmented into the southern hemisphere's continents, including present day Africa.

A combination of the age and conditions under the craton fermented a unique mineral wealth for the country. Around 2.8 billion years ago, gold was deposited in a range of greenstone mountains formed around the northern side of a lake to the west of present day Johannesburg.

This Witswatersrand range has accounted for more than 50% of the world's gold production to date.


Topography Of The Biosphere Looking South

Separately, the Bushveld Igneous Complex extruded to the surface of the planet some 2 billion years ago and brought with it platinum, gold, copper, nickel and tin as well as a number of highly valued minerals. The Kimberley diamond pipe is also unique, a volcanic eruption from deep within the planet's molten core that created conditions that created over 90% of the world's diamond supply.

Particularly unique to the region, and to the south of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, is the Barberton Mountain Land which forms part of the Kaapvaal Craton. This constitutes the oldest exposed rock on the planet and has provided a wealth of insights into the formation of the planet for geologists.

African landscapes have evolved remarkably free of climatic cataclysms for at least 100 million years. This has allowed the evolution and maintenance of unusually diverse fauna and flora, intricately adapted to each other and to their environment. The successive ecological layers of plants, herbivores and carnivores can only be as abundant as the supply of nutrient permits. Similarly, the soil can only be as rich as the rock from which it is formed.

Geology of the Kruger National Park

Local geology

The geology of the Lowveld is organised into broad bands, oriented in an approximately north-south direction. The bands represent successive layers, once horizontal but now tilted downward towards the east by the immense forces that were associated with the shifting of the continents. So, a journey from east to west across the Lowveld Savannah is also a trip backward in time, from a mere 50 million years ago to the beginning of the world.

The evolution of the Lowveld landscape dates back to the break-up of Gondwanaland and the opening of the Mozambique Channel which initiated drainage to the Indian Ocean. At that time Karoo sediments and lavas covered the whole area. The greater part of the area was underlaid with Archaean Old Granite and, in the case of the Murchison Range, even more ancient metamorphic rocks of the Primitive System.

Westwards, the old rocks are covered in turn by igneous and sedimentary rocks of the Witwatersrand and Dominion Reef systems. A subsequent tectonic uplift in the Miocene era and major warping that produced the Lebombo range in the east, accelerated erosion, planation, scarp recession and drainage producing in time the great escarpment of the Drakensberg.


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  • A page discussing the impact of geology on local biodiversity is here
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