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Environmental Issues Affecting Orange River, South Africa

28.6S 16.4E

February 16th, 2013 Category: Climate Change, Rivers

South Africa – January 27th, 2013

Draining an area of just under 1million km2 or 77% of the land area of South Africa, the Orange River has its source in the Drakensberg mountains, but starts as the Senqu River in Lesotho. From here it flows westwards to the Atlantic Ocean. Here, it can be seen flowing more or less horizontally across the upper left quadrant of the image.

The headwaters are located at an altitude of 3300 m and consequently parts freeze in the winter months. After the town of Kimberly the river is joined by the Vaal river, its main tributary and from here it enters the arid region of the southern Kalahari and Namib desert. Dams along the river provide water for irrigation and hydropower, however because of the unpredictable flow and sand bar at the river mouth navigation is limited.

Given the length of the Orange River, combined with its range of altitude and climacteric zones, the basin covers a wide range of ecological systems, and can be regarded as being a linear oasis. Its bio-geographical isolation means that potential for re-colonisation from adjacent rivers and wetlands is very low. The river biota is therefore unusually susceptible to the permanent loss of species.

Its biomes contain a vast array of faunal and floral species variety with several endemic species. However, they also comprise areas facing environmental threats, such as the extinction of species and changes brought about by desertification. The economic utilisation of the Orange River’s water as well as the land use patterns in the basin strongly influences the environmental state of the river basin.

In this context four issues are of particular significance, namely the problem of soil erosion and wetland losses in Lesotho (the most severe problem), the impact of industrial and municipal effluent in the Vaal River system, agricultural pollution in the Vaal and Orange River and the environmental threats to the Orange River Estuary Ramsar site at the mouth (click here for more information).

Mountains of Cape Fold Belt in South Africa’s Western Cape Region

33.9S 18.4E

May 16th, 2012 Category: Mountains, Rivers

South Africa - May 15th, 2012

Visible near the bottom of this image is the Western Cape region of South Africa, an area with great topographical diversity. Most of the province falls within the Cape Fold Belt, a range of sandstone folded mountains. The far interior forms part of the Karoo Basin and is generally arid and hilly with a sharp escarpment in the north. Coastal areas range from sandy between capes, to rocky to steep and mountainous in places. Located by the coast in the lower left quadrant are Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope.

Moving northwards, visible crossing the upper part of the image is the Orange River, appearing as a thick green line, despite what its name might suggest. Some sediments can be seen entering the Atlantic Ocean by the river’s mouth. The river forms part of the international borders between South Africa and Namibia and between South Africa and Lesotho, as well as several provincial borders within South Africa. Visible near the coast in Namibia, north of the river, is the southern part of the Namib Desert.

Orange River and Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

34.3S 18.4E

March 9th, 2012 Category: Rivers

Namibia - March 5th, 2012

The Orange River can be seen crossing the upper part of this image of South Africa, more or less parallel to the top edge. Despite its name, the river is most visible in the upper right quadrant as a thick green line.

The river forms part of the international borders between South Africa and Namibia and between South Africa and Lesotho, as well as several provincial borders within South Africa. It rises in the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho, flowing westwards through South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. In the full image, a small amount of sediments can be seen entering the Atlantic by the rivermouth. 

Visible in the lower part of the image are Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope, in the Western Cape region of South Africa.  The Western Cape is exceptionally topographically diverse. Most of the province falls within the Cape Fold Belt, a range of sandstone folded mountains. The far interior forms part of the Karoo Basin and is generally arid and hilly with a sharp escarpment in the north. Coastal areas range from sandy between capes, to rocky to steep and mountainous in places.

Orange River Near Augrabies Falls, South Africa

28.5S 20.1E

January 31st, 2011 Category: Rivers

South Africa - January 16th, 2011

This section of the Orange River is located entirely in South Africa (further west, it provides the border between South Africa and Namibia). The river has a total length of 2,200 km (1,367 mi).

Located on the river at the left edge are the Augrabies Falls, a waterfall within the Augrabies Falls National Park. The falls are around 60m in height. The gorge at the Augrabies Falls is 240 m deep and 18 km long, and is an impressive example of granite erosion.

From Namibia to Cape Agulhas, South Africa

34.8S 20.0E

August 23rd, 2010 Category: Rivers

South Africa - July 17th, 2010

This image stretches from Namibia to Cape Agulhas in South Africa, the southernmost point on the African continent. Also visible are Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope. Although many believe the Cape of Good Hope to be the southern tip of the continent, Cape Agulhas is, in fact, about 150 kilometres further (90 mi) to the east-southeast.

Moving northward from this green coastal area and towards Namibia, the land becomes progressively drier. The border between South Africa and Namibia is marked by the Orange River, visible as a dark line in the middle of the full image. Some sediments can be seen spilling from the rivermouth into the ocean.

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