This article is from
Creation 36(2):18–19, April 2014

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The watery formation of Fish River Canyon in arid Namibia

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Fish-River-Canyon-from-lookout
Figure 1. Fish River Canyon from the visitor lookout near Hobas. The walls of the 500-metre-deep gorge expose two kinds of rock: the flat strata of the Nama Group sediments, which sit on top of the tilted rocks of the Namaqua Complex.

Fish River Canyon is the second largest land canyon in the world, after Grand Canyon in the USA.1

It’s in Namibia, on the west coast of southern Africa, a country that’s a little larger than Texas, but with only a tenth of the population—just 2.2 million people.

The Fish River flows over a remarkably flat landscape, into the Orange River along the border with South Africa. For three quarters of its 650-km length, the river runs across the land, but in its last quarter it cuts down into the rocks forming the spectacular canyon.2

From the tourist lookout near Hobas, you can peer deep into the inner canyon and see the river flowing around a horseshoe bend (figure 1). The overwhelming impression is dryness. The land is arid. The countryside is brown and dusty, and trees are conspicuously absent. During the few months comprising the rainy season the river is muddy and flows quickly in the gorge, but for most of the year it’s just a trickle between strings of water holes.

In such an arid climate, how would the distinctive landscape around Fish River Canyon have been eroded? For all its dryness, the landscape looks like there was a lot of water flowing over it in the past. Water provides the clue.

Hobas
Figure 2. Satellite image shows the wide, flat plain has been eroded north-south by Fish River Canyon. Note the multiple side canyons which are characteristic of ponded water draining from the plain. (Image from Google Earth)

Look at the flat plain in the distance across the canyon from the lookout. This flat surface is even more obvious in satellite pictures, as available through Google maps (figure 2). This flat land surface suggests that the area was eroded by a wide expanse of flowing water that eroded the rocks. Flat landscapes are a tell-tale signature of Noah’s Flood, in particular the period in the second part of that event when the waters were receding in wide sheets from the earth.3

Another indication of past water flows is the deep inner canyon itself. Although the canyon is deep, Fish River follows a meandering path. Further, it has maintained the same path as it cut through the thick layers of flat-lying sedimentary rocks and into the underlying metamorphic rocks. In other words, it has not cut sideways on the landscape but downwards. This means that the inner canyon started eroding when sea level was much higher, that the water flow through the canyon was high, and that the sea level fell rapidly so that the water flow eroded downwards rather than sideways.

On the satellite view, notice the multiple, large side canyons projecting from Fish River Canyon. This erosion pattern is another characteristic of Noah’s Flood, signifying the time when ponded water was draining from on top of the plain. The ponded water would have flowed sideways into the main Fish River Canyon cutting the side canyons. The same features are present in Grand Canyon, USA.4

©Christian Goltz Hobas-view-point
Figure 3. The Hobas View Point visitor information facility at Fish River Canyon provides an excellent vantage point for tourists, plus abundant interpretive information on Perspex signs.

Notice too that there is very little rock debris in the inner canyon. This means the eroded rock has been carried out of the region by the water. The deep inner canyon is another signature landform of Noah’s Flood, of the period when the waters had mostly receded but were still flowing in large channels. The area around Grand Canyon, USA has similar shaped features.5

Fish River Canyon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in southern Namibia. It’s considered a national monument. A modern tourist resort is located within the canyon at Ai-Ais, and a visitors’ lookout has been constructed near Hobas. Abundant interpretive information has been provided on Perspex signs at this lookout (figure 3), and most of the material is excellent. But the geological information is presented using the geological philosophy that denies that Noah’s Flood ever happened. For people to be able to properly understand what they are looking at, and to make the connection between Fish River Canyon and what really happened on the earth, the geological information on the signs needs to include the biblical perspective.

References and notes

  1. Schneider, G., The Roadside Geology of Namibia, Gebrüder Borntraeger, Berlin, pp. 70–72, 2004. This refers to canyons on the continents. There are canyons larger than Grand Canyon under the sea. Return to text.
  2. Fish River Canyon, Namibia Geological Survey, 2 June 2010;mme.gov.na. Return to text.
  3. Oard, M.J., It’s plain to see: Flat land surfaces are strong evidence for the Genesis Flood, Creation 28(2):34–37, 2006; creation.com/plain. Return to text.
  4. Scheele, P., A receding Flood scenario for the origin of the Grand Canyon, J. Creation 24(3):106–116, 2010; creation.com/gc-origin. Return to text.
  5. Walker, T., Horse Shoe Bend, Arizona: Carved by the receding waters of Noah’s Flood, creation.com/horse-shoe, 18 September 2012. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Flood By Design
by Michael J Oard
From
US $15.00

Readers’ comments

Christine E.
My theory on the Grand Canyon, and it might apply here as well, and the Rift Valley in Africa, is that they were formed by the basic rift, by a cataclysm ripping the ground, and water erosion features came later as some river diverted into the rift.
HAROLD P.
I cannot figure out where the water went when the flood ended. For water to recede, it must have somewhere to go and my understanding is that the flood was global. I'm sure you have a simple answer for this. Thank you for the great articles.
Tas Walker
The search box on creation.com is your friend. See the article Where did all the water go? Once the water covered the whole earth the crust of the earth moved, causing the ocean basins to sink relative to the continents.
Robert D.
Thanks CMI,
How do you respond to folks who say that the meandering course of the river indicates that the water that did the carving had to be small enough to be incapable of overcoming changing degrees of rock resistance? And that if it was Noah's flood, it would have cut straight lines with the weight of water coming through it?
Thanks for all you guys do :-)
Tas Walker
Hi Robert,

The meander shape was determined by the slightly undulating surface that was left after the whole area had been planed flat by the sheet flow of the receding floodwaters. That the meandering canyon is deep means that the base level of the downstream water dropped rapidly as the canyon was carved.

A slow-eroding meander would carve a wide, shallow valley that was the width of the meander and which was filled with debris from that erosion. This is not what is here.

This is touched on in the article when it says:

“Another indication of past water flows is the deep inner canyon itself. Although the canyon is deep, Fish River follows a meandering path. Further, it has maintained the same path as it cut through the thick layers of flat-lying sedimentary rocks and into the underlying metamorphic rocks. In other words, it has not cut sideways on the landscape but downwards. This means that the inner canyon started eroding when sea level was much higher, that the water flow through the canyon was high, and that the sea level fell rapidly so that the water flow eroded downwards rather than sideways.”

The argument you mention and the meander shape is also discussed with the Horeshoe Bend Canyon.

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