Subtle signatures of seeps: Record of groundwater in a Dryland, DK, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

Gail M. Ashley, Carol B. de Wet, Doris Barboni, Clayton Magill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Few proxies exist to identify aridity in the depositional record, although drylands cover ca 30% of the modern continental surface. New exposures in a siliciclastic and carbonate sequence in an arid to hyperarid basin at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania provide a unique multi‐proxy record of a 1·85 Ma landscape that was exploited by early humans. The 2 m thick sequence of clastics and carbonates that are exposed along a 450 m outcrop records climate change over a single precession (dry‐wet‐dry) cycle. Siliciclastic data (sedimentary structures, grain size, mineralogy) and biological data are combined with data for a 10 to 35 cm thick limestone (stable isotopes, elemental geochemistry, petrography) to generate a depositional facies model for a site DK (Douglass Korongo) on this dry rift basin landscape. This site was situated on a low gradient, distal portion of a volcaniclastic alluvial fan. The clastics are intercalated distal alluvial fan sandy silts and lake clays that accumulated in a low energy environment. Groundwater discharge and the alkaline springs and seeps during wet‐to‐dry change in climate made a freshwater carbonate‐rich environment. Bedded lithofacies (a lime mudstone with fossils) were deposited in shallow standing (spring‐fed) pools, while nodular lithofacies with calcite spherulites indicate permanently saturated ground (seeps). Both environments experienced similar diagenesis, that is, the precipitation of authigenic barite from supersaturated groundwater, desiccation and pedogenesis, and late‐stage calcite precipitation. Compositional and isotopic data suggest that a fresh groundwater‐fed system was available to early humans even during dry intervals of the precession cycle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-21
JournalDepositional Record
Issue number1
Early online date13 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Groundwater
  • Limestone
  • Olduvai
  • Volcaniclastic


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