An Environmental History of Southern Africa
- Jasper KnightJasper KnightSchool of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand
Southern Africa has experienced significant environmental changes since the breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent, starting around 180 million years ago. These environmental changes broadly reflect the interplay between tectonic and global-scale climatic drivers, which in combination result in changes to the properties and dynamics of land surface physical and ecological processes. The preserved record of such processes can be used as proxy indicators to reconstruct past environments and climates.
In southern Africa, different types of proxy indicators have formed and are preserved in different geographical areas, broadly corresponding to their individual climatic and geomorphic contexts. Three significant time intervals over which landscape evolution have taken place are the Phanerozoic, the late Quaternary, and the last 200 years.
A critical outcome of this analysis is that the record of environmental change in southern Africa is highly variable and only partly preserved, and that there are spatial and temporal gaps which mean that it is difficult to construct a continuous or unambiguous environmental history either for all areas of the region or for all time intervals. Changing physical drivers and environmental controls over time, including land surface feedbacks, are now being supplanted by a stronger imprint of human activity in the Anthropocene.