Namib Sand Sea


View from the International Space Station of the north-south linear dunes and star dunes along the Tsauchab River Valley. (Courtesy of KARI/ESA).

Geological Period

Quaternary / Holocene

Main geological interest

Geomorphology and active geological processes
Stratigraphy and sedimentology


Namibia, West.
22°55’00.0″S, 15°09’00.0″E

View from the International Space Station of the north-south linear dunes and star dunes along the Tsauchab River Valley. (Courtesy of KARI/ESA).


The Namib Sand Sea is an active geological-geomorphological phenomenon that is a spectacular example of the evolution of a desert landscape. The Namib Sand Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013, is a well conserved part of the Namib Desert offering a spectacular landscape formed by an interplay of geological, geomorphological, and atmospheric processes. Dunes of the Namib Sand Sea, developed over an older dune system, exhibit the highest diversity of types and form an unparalleled aeolian geomorphological landscape. The Namib Sand Sea presents a spectacular and fascinating desert scenery with red hued majestic sand dunes.

Fog is an essential source of moisture over the sundry dunes of the Namib Sand Sea (Copyright: Olivier Grunewald).

The Namib Sand Sea (the Sossus Sand Formation) is a major physiographic feature of the Namib Desert, covering a 50–160 km wide region of the coast between Lüderitz and Walvis Bay and covering an area of ~34,000 km2 (Stone, 2013). It is bordered by the southern Atlantic Ocean to the west and by the Great Escarpment of southern Africa to east. New age control from cosmogenic dating indicates that the sand sea is more than a million years old (Vermeesch et al., 2010; Stone, 2013). The sand sea overlies a Neogene age fossil desert (the Tsondab Sandstone Formation). The sandy desert is dominated by large linear dunes and has areas of star-shaped dunes on its eastern margin and a belt of simple and compound transverse and barchanoid dunes along the coast (Livingstone, 2013). Linear and star dunes attain impressive heights, in excess of 150 m and 300 m, respectively. The Orange River is the predominant ultimate source of sand for the Namib Desert dunes. After long-distance fluvial transport, sand from the Orange River is washed by ocean waves and dragged northwards by vigorous longshore currents and under the incessant action of southerly winds, sand is blown inland and carried farther north to accumulate in the Namib erg, a peculiar wind-dominated sediment sink with the sand deposited hundreds of kilometers away from the mouth of the Orange River. (Garzanti et al., 2012).

The Namib Sand Sea has been studied over the past 50 years since the establishment of the research station at Gobabeb, which served as a base for geoscientific work by a considerable number of scientists. Numerous papers including in top journals have been published about the geology and geomorphology of the Namib Sand Sea.

Distribution of different dune types in the Namib Sand Sea after (Livingstone et al., 2010).

Garzanti, E. et al. (2012) ‘Petrology of the Namib Sand Sea: Long-distance transport and compositional variability in the wind-displaced Orange Delta’, Earth-Science Reviews, 112(3), pp. 173–189. Available at:

Goudie, A. and Viles, H. (2015) Landscapes and Landforms of Namibia. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands (World Geomorphological Landscapes). Available at:

Lancaster, N. (1985) ‘Winds and sand movements in the Namib Sand Sea’, Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 10(6), pp. 607–619. Available at:

Livingstone, I. et al. (2010) ‘The Namib Sand Sea digital database of aeolian dunes and key forcing variables’, Aeolian Research, 2(2), pp. 93–104. Available at:

Livingstone, I. (2013) ‘Aeolian geomorphology of the Namib Sand Sea’, Journal of Arid Environments, 93, pp. 30–39. Available at:

Livingstone, I. et al. (2014) ‘A prospectus for future geomorphological investigation of the Namib Sand Sea’, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 69(3), pp. 151–156. Available at:

Stone, A.E.C. (2013) ‘Age and dynamics of the Namib Sand Sea: A review of chronological evidence and possible landscape development models’, Journal of African Earth Sciences, 82, pp. 70–87. Available at:

Vermeesch, P. et al. (2010) ‘Sand residence times of one million years in the Namib Sand Sea from cosmogenic nuclides’, Nature Geoscience, 3(12), pp. 862–865. Available at:

Asfawossen Asrat.
Botswana International University of Science and Technology, Palapye, Botswana.

Piotr Migoń.
Institute of Geography and Regional Development, University of Wrocław, Wrocław, Poland.

Zbigniew Zwoliński.
Institute of Geoecology and Geoinformation, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland.