The Geology of Victoria Falls

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DESCRIPTION | Victoria Falls in Africa is the result of hundreds of millions of years of geological activity. The main bed of the river is a basalt island formed 180 million years ago by successive waves of volcanic eruption.


  • D I S C O V E R I N G V I C T O R I A F A L L S

    Victoria Falls, also known as

    Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders), is one of the most impressive natural

    wonders on the African

    continent. The site is the

    result of millions of years of

    geological evolution and

    tectonic shifts, the history

    of which reveals much about

    the development of the

    world as we know it today.

  • V I C T O R I A F A L L S : Q U I C K F A C T S

    Victoria Falls stands at 108 meters tall and

    1,708 meters wide.

    It is located on the border of Zambia and

    Zimbabwe in southern

    Africa, along the path of

    the Zambezi River.

    The mist cloud from the falls can be seen as far

    as 48 kilometers away!

  • I N T H E B E G I N N I N G

    The foundational bedrock of

    Victoria Falls is made of

    basalt, a dark volcanic rock

    that was formed around 180

    million years ago. Over

    millions of years of volcanic

    eruptions, lava cooled into

    layers of basalt, which were

    then covered by new layers of

    lava. This process repeated

    many, many times over.

  • A N I S L A N D O F S T O N E

    This ancient volcanic

    activity created a 200-

    kilometer basalt island in the surrounding sandveld

    (land characterized by dry,

    sandy soil). In the area

    around Victoria Falls, this

    basalt is up to 300 meters

    thick. As the land shifted,

    giant cracks known as

    joints appeared in the rock, and were filled in by

    softer, clay-like sediment.

  • T H E R I V E R R U N S T H R O U G H I T

    When the basalt first formed,

    the area of Victoria Falls was

    a river-less desert. As the

    land continued to shift,

    water and tropical vegetation

    began to move in and change

    the landscape. Eventually, a

    massive continental shift

    caused the creation of the

    Zambezi River, which began

    to flow over the giant joints

    in the basalt and erode the

    clay sediment built up there.

  • T H E B I G S P I L L

    What we know as the

    Zambezi River was originally

    two rivers that werent connected. 10 to 15 million

    years ago, geological

    upheavals shifted the land

    once again, causing the two

    rivers to combine into the

    modern Zambezi. This would

    create the conditions

    necessary for the formation

    of Victoria Falls.

  • A F A U L T Y T H E O R Y

    For many years, it was

    incorrectly believed that

    Victoria Falls was created

    as the result of a fault line

    opening up in the path of

    the river. This theory was

    first presented by Dr. David

    Livingstone, the famous

    explorer who was the first

    European to see the falls,

    and who named them after

    Queen Victoria.

  • A L O N G H I S T O R Y

    Victoria Falls is not the

    first giant waterfall in the

    area. Though the current

    falls are believed to be

    between 100,000 and

    250,000 years old, there

    were at least seven

    waterfalls of comparable

    size that formed in the

    area in the past.

  • A B O U T A M A W A T E R W A Y S

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  • S O U R C E S


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