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Sand ramps as palaeoenvironmental archives: Integrating general principles and regional contexts through reanalysis of the Klipkraal Sands, South Africa

Rowell, Alexandra L.K., Thomas, David S.G., Bailey, Richard M., Holmes, Peter J.
Geomorphology 2018 v.311 pp. 103-113
arid lands, dunes, eolian deposits, paleoecology, sand, talus, South Africa
Sand ramps occur on a continuum of topographically-controlled landforms, ranging from purely aeolian features (climbing/falling dunes) to talus cones and alluvial fans. Sand ramps have been identified as potentially important palaeoenvironmental archives in dryland regions that possess relatively few Quaternary proxy records. Their utility however requires not only good age control of depositional phases but clear identification of process regimes, determined through morphological and sedimentological analyses, with several recent studies indicating the complexities of palaeoenvironmental interpretations and the controls of ramp development (Bateman et al., 2012; Rowell et al., 2018).Klipkraal Sands is a sand ramp on the north-eastern margin of the semi-arid Karoo that has been important for inferences of the extent of southern African Late Quaternary aeolian activity (Thomas et al., 2002). We reanalyse this feature, in the light of both its significance and other recent studies that have inferred extensive southern African LGM aeolian activity (Telfer et al., 2012, 2014). New sedimentological data and twelve OSL dates indicate the Klipkraal Sands formed episodically between ~100–0.14 ka, rather than accumulating rapidly, while sedimentological data question the aeolian affinities of the bulk of the feature. Therefore, Klipkraal is reinterpreted as showing no particular affinity to the LGM, with sediments locally sourced with a significant colluvial component. Only the upper historical sediments can be clearly interpreted as aeolian deposits. A complex interplay of processes is suggested, for which a meaningful palaeoenvironmental interpretation cannot be easily defined. This implies that the local geomorphic processes and controls operating on sand ramps need to be established before they can be fully utilised as palaeoenvironmental archives, with implications for their interpretation worldwide.