Sand, salt and water in the Stampriet Basin, Namibia: Calculating unsaturated zone (Kalahari dunefield) recharge using the chloride mass balance approach

  • AEC Stone
  • WM Edmunds
Keywords: groundwater, direct recharge, chloride mass balance, unsaturated zone, Stampriet Artesian Basin, Kalahari


Estimating groundwater recharge rates in the Stampriet Basin is important for assessing the sustainability of the groundwater resource both within south-east Namibia, and across the borders of this transboundary resource into Botswana and South Africa. The 65 000 km2 basin contains a multi-layered aquifer system, of up to 9 superimposed aquifers, with a major
upper unconfined and 2 major artesian levels. The majority of water abstraction (66%) is from the unconfined Kalahari Aquifer. This research investigates the direct recharge pathway through the dune-sand cover of the southern Kalahari dunefield which overlies ~80% of the basin. This is undertaken using established chloride mass balance methods within 4
unsaturated zone profiles (9 m to 11.5 m depth) from 2 regions of the basin. The results indicate that recent recharge rates are between 7 mm·y-1 to 46 mm·y-1, with profiles representing between 10 years and 30 years of rainfall infiltration. This is the first time that substantial direct (diffuse) recharge has been quantified for the Stampriet Basin, and this part of the southern Kalahari. These 4 profiles indicate potentially similar levels of spatial variability as seen in many other semi-arid, sand-rich unsaturated zones across the world. Further studies using the unsaturated zone should be employed in this region, to better inform our  understanding of recharge mechanisms across the basin. The chloride mass balance technique provides information about the unsaturated zone, and important insights about recharge in various sand-covered regions of the basin for which very little is known, or is possible to determine using conventional water balance approaches. Direct recharge rates estimated in this way constitute a vital part of constraining the water balance of the basin, and particularly of the Kalahari Aquifer from which the majority of groundwater abstraction occurs.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0378-4738