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Located near the southeastern limit of Africa, the Lesotho-Drakensberg and associated escarpment is the highest range of African mountains south of the massifs in Tanzania. At the escarpment summit and on the adjacent high peaks, the climate is generally interpreted as marginal periglacial yet few data, specifically rainfall and temperature, exist on record at these altitudes. Climatic data from two temporary field stations on the escarpment edge, one of which is the highest rainfall station yet on record in southern Africa, provide contemporary surface-climate conditions. Mean annual rainfall recorded between 2001 and 2005 averages 767.8 mm at Sani Pass summit (three complete years), and 753.2 mm on Sentinel Peak (two complete years); these values are less than those recorded for the same period in the mountain foothills. Even though rainfall is slightly below long-term rainfall averages for the area due to a marginally dry spell, the data show that earlier estimates of between 1000 mm and 2000 mm rainfall per annum on the escarpment are too high. A measured mean air temperature of 5.8°C at Sani Pass, however, falls within the range estimated for the escarpment summit. Frost cycles in air and at the soil surface are frequent in winter, but absent in soil for summer, and no long-duration surface-soil freeze was measured. Temperatures thus confirm the marginal periglacial nature as postulated for previously, but precipitation data indicate a dryer environment than anticipated. Palaeoenvironmental scenarios, notably arguments for former glaciation based on extrapolations from somewhat exaggerated contemporary precipitation values, thus require re-consideration.

Keywords: Drakensberg; Palaeoenvironment; Rainfall; Southern Africa; Temperature

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Fort Hare, South Africa 2: Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Publication date: 2008-03-01

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