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Red dune sea

Graeme Williams

Sossusvlei - Photographs by Graeme Williams

Sossusvlei (vlei - Afrikaans for marshland) is a large ephemeral pan within a sea of red sand dunes situated in the Namib-Naukluft Park, in Namibia. The vlei and its surrounding dunes (some reaching 200m), is one of Namibia's most popular tourist attractions. The vlei marks the end of the Tsauchab River's journey to the sea. Thousands of years ago the river reached the Atlantic Ocean, but the encroaching dunes have blocked its course. The pans can be dry for as long as a decade and only receive water during exceptionally rainy seasons.

The pan is the most accessible part of the 300 km long and 150 km wide sand sea which covers a 32 000 sq km area on the West coast of Namibia. It is believed that the sand originated in the Kalahari Desert a few million years ago. It was swept down the Orange and Fish rivers and has been deposited along the Namibian coast by the north flowing Benguela Current.

Nearby, Dead Vlei was originally part of the greater Sossusvlei, but was cut off from the course of the Tsauchab River around 500 years ago. The trees have long since died, but have remained due to the slow rate of decomposition in the dry, salty environment. The remaining camel thorn trees stand out in stark contrast to the white floor of the pan.

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