Several studies have compiled and analysed measured contemporary catchment sediment yield (SY, [t km− 2 y− 1]) values for various regions of the world. Although this has significantly contributed to our understanding of SY, Africa remains severely underrepresented in these studies. The objective of this article is therefore: (1) to review and compile available SY data for Africa; (2) to explore the spatial variability of these SY data; and (3) to examine which environmental factors explain this spatial variability.
A literature review resulted in a dataset of SY measurements for 682 African catchments from 84 publications and reports, representing more than 8340 catchment-years of observations. These catchments span eight orders of magnitude in size and are relatively well spread across the continent. A description of this dataset and comparison with other SY datasets in terms of spatial and temporal distribution and measurement quality is provided.
SY values vary between 0.2 and 15,699 t km− 2 y− 1 (median: 160 t km− 2 y− 1, average: 634 t km− 2 y− 1). The highest SY values occur in the Atlas region with SY values frequently exceeding 1000 t km− 2 y− 1. Also the Rift region is generally characterised by relatively high SY values, while rivers in Western and Central Africa have generally low SY values.
Spatial variation in SY at the continental scale is mainly explained by differences in seismic activity, topography, vegetation cover and annual runoff depth. Other factors such as lithology, catchment area or reservoir impacts showed less clear correlations. The results of these analyses are discussed and compared with findings from other studies. Based on our results, we propose a simple regression model to simulate SY in Africa. Although this model has a relatively low predictive accuracy (40%), it simulates the overall patterns of the observed SY values well. Potential explanations for the unexplained variance are discussed and suggestions for further research that may contribute to a better understanding of SY in Africa are made.