Main content area

An integrated remote sensing and GIS analysis of the Kufrah Paleoriver, Eastern Sahara

Ghoneim, Eman, Benedetti, Michael, El-Baz, Farouk
Geomorphology 2012 v.139-140 pp. 242-257
alluvium, basins, crossing, drainage, geographic information systems, groundwater, humans, lakes, landscapes, lidar, models, natural gas, oil fields, population, radar, remote sensing, rivers, sand, sediment yield, stream flow, streams, subsidence, tectonics, valleys, watersheds, Chad, Libya, Mediterranean Sea
A combined remote sensing (optical and radar imagery) and GIS (hydrologic network delineation) analysis allows mapping of the Kufrah Paleoriver of Libya and sheds light on its geomorphic evolution during the Neogene. The Kufrah system, which is now largely buried beneath the windblown sands of the Eastern Sahara, drained an area of about 236,000km² in central and southern Libya. The river discharged across a large inland delta to the Al-Jaghbub depression in northern Libya, and ultimately through the Sirt Basin to the Mediterranean Sea. Radar imagery reveals buried features of the landscape including drainage divides, locations of possible stream capture, deeply-incised valleys, and the distal margins of the inland delta. Previous studies have shown that the Kufrah Paleoriver is the successor of the Sahabi River, which drained most of central Libya during the late Tertiary. Satellite imagery supports the concept of large-scale drainage rearrangement in the Quaternary, driven by tectonic subsidence that diverted streamflow and sediment discharge away from the Sahabi basin toward the inland delta of the lower Kufrah basin. Paleochannels crossing the delta suggest that at various times during the Quaternary, the Kufrah Paleoriver either drained externally through the deeply-incised Sahabi Paleochannel to the Mediterranean Sea, or drained internally to paleolakes in the Al-Jaghbub depression. Thick alluvial deposits on the delta and lake margins likely provided a major sediment source to build the Great Sand Sea, which covers the region today. The southwestern branch of the Kufrah drainage is aligned with an elongated trough that connects to the Amatinga River system in Chad. Thus the Kufrah watershed may have served as an outlet from Megalake Chad to the Mediterranean Sea during humid phases of the Neogene. If so, the combined Amatinga/Kufrah system may have served as one of the proposed natural corridors used by human and animal populations to cross the Sahara during the Pleistocene. These findings hold promise for modeling past lake levels and paleoclimates, locating groundwater sources in the region, and exploring for reservoirs of oil and natural gas in the region.