A seismic-refraction study of the sedimentary structure of the South West African continental shelf was carried out between lat 17°S and 24°S using expendable sonobuoys. Striking differences exist both in the topography and sedimentary structure between the shelf north and south of the Walvis Ridge. South of the ridge, as far as lat 23°S, the shelf consists of a prograded series, whereas north of the ridge, at least as far as lat 17°S, east-trending canyons cut the shelf sedimentary cover. The steep northern scarp of Walvis Ridge can be traced eastward under the sediment of the continental margin. The southern flank of the ridge is buried under a thicker sedimentary cover and could only be traced eastward to long. 10°E on seismic-reflection records. This flank probably parallels the northern scarp under the continental margin. Two-dimensional structural models, built with the help of seismic-reflection and seismic-refraction results and based on the hypothesis of local isostatic equilibrium, account for the observed gravity profiles. A compensating root consists of light material (density 2.95 g/cm3) and reaches a depth of about 25 km. Gravity results also suggest that the Walvis Ridge does not constitute a superimposed load on the lithosphere; rather, the ridge and its underlying compensating mass were created at approximately the same time as the adjacent ocean basins.
The creation of the two aseismic ridges of the South Atlantic — the Rio Grande Rise and Walvis Ridge — by a mantle hot spot and plume is accepted; this theory seems to explain most of the peculiar features of the Walvis Ridge. However, it is probable that the surface expression of the mantle hot spot was controlled by the presence of weak zones in the lithosphere such as transform faults.