The Witputs diamictite in southern Namibia and associated rocks: constraints for a global glaciation?

Udo Zimmermann, Jennifer Tait, Quentin G. Crowley, Vanessa Pashley, Gijs Straathof

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Witputs section of the Gariep Belt (S Namibia) comprises a sequence of clastic and chemical sediments, which have been interpreted as representative of a Late Neoproterozoic global or near-global ice age event, and recent biostratigraphic work in the upper rocks of the Witputs suggest a Late Ediacaran age. To further characterise this sequence and provide additional age constraints, a detailed sedimentological and detrital zircon study has been carried out. The petrographic, sedimentological and geochemical characteristics of the Witputs diamictite determined in this study are homogenous and indicative of debris flow or palaeo-valley infill sediments, deposited in an oxic environment with no glaciogenic evidence. This homogeneity is also reflected in the detrital zircon age spectra with most ages falling between 1.0 and 1.3 Ga, representing the local geology, with the youngest grain at 1030.2 +/- A 10.9 (2 sigma) (n = 92 < 10% discordance), despite the fact that mid and Late Neoproterozoic volcanic activity is known in the local region. The overlying carbonate rocks, often considered to be 'cap carbonates', show high Mn (up to 60% MnO), with base metal precipitation (Zn, V, Co), and are recrystallised. Their delta C-13(VPDB) isotope ratios are homogeneous at around-3. Major and trace element ratios reach values which indicate that C-O isotopes may be disturbed and might not reflect primary global seawater composition, thus questioning their use for global correlation and comparison with composite chemostratigraphic curves. The contact to the overlying Late Ediacaran Sanddrif Member is not exposed, and the rocks dip in a different direction than the underlying carbonate rocks. The c. 40-m-thick section is characterised by rapid lithology changes including shales, calcareous sandstones and wackes, fine-grained conglomerates and rare clean quartz-rich sandstones, all of which have strikingly similar detrital zircon populations, and the youngest zircon is dated at 1082.8 +/- A 10 Ma (2 sigma errors, from 72 grains with < 10% discordance). Acritarchs earlier found in the Sanddrif Member, however, indicate a post-570 Ma depositional age. If the diamictites are glacio-marine deposits, then an interesting conclusion is that the clastic sediments can display a very immature geochemical signature, indicating a localised provenance, with derivation purely from the local basement rocks, which is also reflected in the detrital zircon populations. However, we would hesitate to assign a glacial origin to the deposits as no glacial indicators, other than a diamictitic texture, were observed. Clearly, far more work on the detailed mapping and sedimentology of the Neoproterozoic Gariep Belt deposits is required, particularly as many are currently used for global correlation. Age constraints derived from extensive detrital zircon work can only constrain the deposits as being post 1.03 Ma with the detritus being purely locally derived.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-526
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Earth Sciences
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011


  • Snowball earth
  • Correlation
  • Detrital zircon ages
  • Numees Formation
  • Holgat Formation
  • Namibia


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