Lake Malawi, in south-eastern Africa, is subject to increasing loading of suspended solids caused by land use pressure in its watershed. Whether this load is transported into the lake as overflow, interflow or deep underflow determines to a large extent its effect on the lake ecosystem. In this paper, vertical distributions of suspended solids in the Linthipe River delta region of the lake are described from multiple surveys during two rainy seasons. These data are supplemented by data from a single survey near four northern rivers also tributary to the lake. Profiles of temperature, conductance, and suspended solids concentrations (SSC, estimated from optical backscatter and beam transmission) are used to identify fluvial intrusions into the water column. Most inflow plunged to the seasonal metalimnion where it spread along high density gradients as interflow. While SSC in surface plumes rarely exceeded 10 g m−3, and in intrusions in the lower metalimnion was rarely greater than 1 g m−3, concentrations up to 420 g m−3 were recorded in interflow near the thermocline. Although storm runoff density often exceeded 100 m depth-equivalence in the lake, underflow density was reduced to metalimnion-equivalence (30–50 m depth) within a few 100s of meters of the river mouth. We attribute bottom-attached turbid layers, and the few unattached turbid layers in the lower metalimnion, all with positive conductance anomalies, to sediment resuspension and not to runoff. We conclude that the upper metalimnion is the prevailing pathway carrying watershed runoff horizontally throughout Lake Malawi.
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Vol. 33 • No. 2