LAND SHAPES: The Geomorphology of Namibia

By Michael Tambo
November 2011
Book Review
Land shapes: The Geomorphology of Namibia is a book written by a geologist, Roger Swart and artiste, Christine Marais and was first published by McMillan Education Namibia Publishers in 2009.

Geomorphology refers to the science that treats the general configuration of the Earth’s surface; specifically the study of the classification, description, nature, origin, processes, and development of present landforms and their relationships to underlying structures and of the history of geologic changes as recorded by these surface features.’

This beautifully produced landscape-format book highlights Namibia’s greatest assets - the dramatic landforms that capture the imagination of all who travel through this beautiful country and attempts to make Namibia’s landforms accessible and easy to understand by minimising jargon and simplifying descriptions.

It also provides a fascinating insight into the forces that shaped the country’s most famous (and lesser known) natural features. Who has not travelled the compass points of Namibia without wondering about the fantastic variety of landscapes exposed for all to see; just ‘like the pages in a book’?

The Geomorphology of Namibia, which is divided into two parts, gives an overview of the country’s geological history as well as the 17 major landscapes. The first chapter of the book gives a vivid description of weathering, horizontally layered rocks (e.g. Vingerklip) and tectonic features; among them the Naukluft.

The book’s second part includes erosion features (e.g. Fish River Canyon, Sesriem and the Khomas Hochland, Auas Mountain and Gamsberg); igneous rocks (e.g. Brand berg, Spitzkoppe, Giant’s Playground) as well as modern events such as fairy circles, coastal salt pans, dunes and pans, the Kalahari, river systems, waterfalls surface processes and inlands. The Kalahari, waterfalls, river systems and inland pans are thus explained. There is also an extremely useful glossary and a list of further reading.

Despite the complex nature of the subject, Land shapes - The Geomorphology of Namibia is written in an easy-to-follow style that enhances travellers’ appreciation and understanding of Namibia’s fascinating natural wonders.

The book has been carefully written to be understood by those who do not have a scientific education but are interested in the landscapes of Namibia. Beautiful paintings accompany the text and the different areas covered by the book are illustrated with satellite photographs.

“The Geology and geomorphology are fundamental to our lives; they control where we live, what agriculture we practise, how we move between places and many other aspects of our daily existence. The location of Windhoek, for example, is determined by the supply of water from springs that are located along faults. Recent flooding in the Oshona areas of northern Namibia is a direct consequence of the interaction between the geomorphology of the area as well as the influence of people. Namibia has a remarkable variety of landscapes in what is, on a global scale, a relatively small area. This include all major dune types in the main Namib Sand Sea, calcrete and gypcrete duricrusts, inselbergs (literally ‘island mountains’) and low reneges of hills, deeply dissected valleys as well as coastal salt pans which occur on the Namib plains. All major types of river systems are found in Namibia-straight, braided and meandering.Ancient glacial landscapes are also unexpectedly well preserved.”

For the past three years, geologist Roger Swart and artiste Christine Marais have collaborated on this book which seeks to explain the geomorphology (geo = earth, morphology = study of structures) and natural shapes of the Namibian landscape with paintings, diagrams and texts.

“In sharing their extensive knowledge of the geomorphology and geology of Namibia, Roger and Christine provide us with new eyes to understand and marvel over the landscapes of Namibia. Their book beckons the laypersons and scientists alike to put on their field gears, pack the kits and camping equipment into their vehicles and venture out, armed with new years to better understanding of the diversity of landforms in Namibia,” says Professor John Grotzinger who wrote the book’s foreword.

The French novelist, Marcel Proust, reminds us that the real voyage of discovery consists not just in seeking new landscapes but also in having new eyes. Roger Swart and Christine Marais provide these insights for us through their vivid writings and brilliant paintings which capture the magical essence of Namibian landscapes.

The authors introduce us to another dimension of the wonders of the history of the Earth, where processes involving vanished rivers, deserts and oceans, earth movements, as well as the influence of underlying rock formations interact through the long march of geological time to produce the classic features we see today.

In modern Earth Science, our understanding of climate – and climate change – is strongly informed by studying the morphology and evolution of landscapes. Looking backwards through the lens on ancient landscapes, we can better see into the future to understand where Earth may be headed.

Roger Swart has lived and worked all over Namibia and has a doctorate in Geology. He works internationally as a consulting geologist. Christine Marais, on the other side, is well known as an artist of the natural history of Namibia and has worked together with scientists on several books, ranging from the flora and fauna to the fossils of Namibia.

Christine Marais has lived and worked in Namibia for nearly 40 years. The Namib Desert and its natural history have been the inspiration and subject matter of her paintings and illustrations for most of this time. She studied at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, obtaining an honours degree in Fine Art (painting) in 1957.

With natural scientists and other experts in their field, she has co-produced over 10 books, celebrating the diversity and beauty of Namibia. Intimate knowledge acquired over years of examining and drawing plants and animals has brought her to understand the fragility and vulnerability of the landscape and its inhabitants as well as the need for their protection.

Roger Swart, however, has worked as a geologist in Namibia since 1982; initially for the Geological Survey of Namibia and then for the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia (Namcor). He studied Geology at Rhodes University and obtained his PhD on Sedimentology in the Ugab in 1991.

Since 2007, he has been working as an independent consultant. His primary interests are in Sedimentology but his work in Namibia has given him a special penchant for the evolution of landforms and the opportunity to team up with different geologists from all over the world, from whom he has enormously learnt. PF