Oxbows in Africa

On August 6, 2013 · 3 Comments

I’m sensitive to the frequency of 12MC article pushpins that increase exponentially as one gets closer to my approximate home. I write about what I know best, and geographic distance figures into the equation. That leaves many areas of the earth underserved and creates a vicious circle. Residents of those places don’t hit the Twelve Mile Circle often because it lacks local content, and I don’t make much of an effort to provide relevant articles since I don’t attract many visitors from those places.

I attempted to put a small dent in that deficit this evening by examining oxbow lakes in Africa. It was excruciatingly difficult. The amount of information available using the usual online sources hardly matched the size and importance of a continent so vast. I couldn’t even find a decent list of African oxbow instances, much less locate them easily. I did uncover a brief quote from a generic social studies book using Google Books though:

Examples of ox-bow lakes are; Lake Kanyaboli on River Yala, Gambi on River Tana, in Kenya; Lake Utange on River Rufiji; Lake Manzala on the Nile Delta, Lake Avangas in Gabon and several ox-bow lakes along River Galma in Nigeria.

I decided to build from that single source, which I suppose was better than everyone else who simply quoted the text verbatim and went on with their lives. I’m going to assume that nearly every reader already knows how oxbow lakes form. However, on the off chance that someone does not, feel free to jump quickly to Wikipedia’s description and return when ready.

OK, let’s parse each segment from the quote.

"Lake Kanyaboli on River Yala"

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I was pretty sure as I read through the quote that the author meant the River Yala in Kenya although the completely separate River Yala in Nigeria also had a really nice example of an oxbow too.

Lake Kanyaboli, reputed to be the second-largest oxbow in Africa, caused me to scratch my head a bit. It lacked that classic crescent appearance and I couldn’t see how it had been disconnected from a source river. Lake Nyamhaya, a little farther south (marked with the arrow), seemed to be a better example albeit considerably smaller.

I never did find the largest reputed oxbow lake in Africa. Please let me know if anyone discovers it.

"Gambi on River Tana, in Kenya"

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At least Lake Kanyaboli existed. I never did find Gambi on the River Tana. Oh, I found lat/long coordinates for it although they seemed to point to barren scrub completely bereft of water. The River Tana itself, on the other hand, provided a bountiful abundance of oxbows. I selected some nice illustrative examples outside of Garsen, a village in Kenya’s Tana River District.

The Kenya Water for Health Organisation portrayed the river rather bluntly.

The area is not very rich in natural resources. River Tana is the only resource that people depend on for domestic and irrigation water. The people who live along the river catch fish, for sell and for use as food… However the river is invested with crocodiles and highly contaminated making it very dangerous to those who use it.

I think the Kenya Water for Health Organisation and I use the same editor. He inexpensive but he doesn’t catch a lot of errors.

"Lake Utange on River Rufiji"

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I never found Lake Utange either. Maybe it went by a different name. The braided delta of Tanzania’s River Rufiji offered plenty of anonymous oxbows, or maybe they all had wonderfully descriptive names that online maps simply ignored. Just ponder this perfect example with its classic shape.

More amusing, River Rufiji dumps into the Indian Ocean near Mafia Island. And all this time I thought Mafia island was Sicily.

"Lake Manzala on the Nile Delta"

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No other example was easier to find than Lake Manzala (Manzaleh) in the Nile River delta, adjacent to the Suez Canal. It’s a type of oxbow lake although perhaps not in the classic sense. It’s a deltaic lake formed as sediment pushed downstream into the mouth of a river. I would imagine that more people have seen Lake Manzala than any of the other lakes mentioned in this article.

"Lake Avangas in Gabon"

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It was easier to find this lake once I figured out it’s real name, Lac Avanga. Actually, there appeared to be a series of these lakes although they didn’t take the oxbow shape. They’re found on the OgoouĂ© River, the principal waterway of Gabon which discharges a greater volume of water than all other African rivers except for the Congo, Niger and Zambezi. Seriously, it’s the fourth largest African river by volume and yet I’d never heard of it. That’s another reason why I have great trouble writing articles about this corner of the world. I lack the basic knowledge.

"And several ox-bow lakes along river Galma in Nigeria"

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Are there genuinely several oxbows in this river or is it merely braided?

I couldn’t identify the River Galma. It’s bad enough when I can’t find a lake, and it’s an order of magnitude worse when I can’t find an entire river. The Galma River flows into the Kaduna River that flows into the Niger River that flows into the Gulf of Guinea. I found the Kaduna easily enough because the adjacent city of Kaduna was the capital of Nigeria’s Kaduna State. I couldn’t figure out which split formed the Galma so I used Kaduna as a proxy.

Here’s the crazy part: the city of Kaduna has nearly 800,000 residents and yet I still found almost nothing about the river that flowed through it or any of the major tributaries.

On August 6, 2013 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Oxbows in Africa”

  1. Katy says:

    The River Galva looks like a braided stream.

  2. Ed Redmond says:

    On a different continent – my favorite example of an oxbow map can be seen via http://www.loc.gov/item/2012588005
    Entitled “Sketch map of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Tallipose River, it is dated 27 March, 1814. (War of 1812)

    In addition to looking like a top hat, the manuscript map was “drawn on the top of a hat”

    Ed Redmond
    Geography and Map Division
    Library of Congress

  3. Day says:

    I personally think the river Tana looks cool. It has a lot of parts that lead off to nowhere and it looks like a braided stream.

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