PIRE: AfricaArray: Imaging the African Superplume, building African partnerships, and enhancing diversity in the geosciences

Project: Research project

Project Details


0530062 Nyblade

This Partnership for International Research and Education award addresses a first-order Earth Science question that cannot be answered without strong intellectual collaboration and partnerships between scientists in the U.S. and Africa and their respective institutions: 'What is the structure and origin of the African Superplume?' The African Superplume is a large region of low seismic wave speeds in the lower mantle under Africa that has long been recognized as one of the most prominent upwellings in the mantle, and that possibly holds the key to unraveling the dynamics of mantle convection. U.S. scientists will partner with scientists in Africa (in Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe), as part of a broad initiative called AfricaArray, to image the African Superplume using data gathered during a 4-year passive seismic experiment in eastern Africa that will sample a critical region in the mid-mantle where there could be a connection between anomalous upper mantle under eastern Africa and anomalous lower mantle beneath central and southern Africa. Establishing an unambiguous connection between upper and lower mantle structure will place a first-order constraint on the origin of the Superplume by pointing to a buoyancy source (thermal and/or chemical) near the core-mantle boundary. The primary partners in this project are Pennsylvania State University, North Carolina A & T University, and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

Built around the core research program is a multi-faceted educational and outreach effort that strives to catalyze a cultural change in U.S. institutions by promoting a new model for how U.S. institutions can effectively run international education and research projects that are truly collaborative and sustainable, and that also contribute to the development of a diverse workforce. The basic elements of the model, as applied to this project are 1) developing e-education and field courses linked to the research for undergraduates at U.S. minority-serving institutions and in Africa, 2) involving undergraduates in international field work, 3) requiring graduate students to a) take a foreign language, b) spend one semester at a university in Africa, and c) develop tutorials covering a range of introductory geophysics topics for undergraduates, 4) faculty visits to Africa for collaboration with their colleagues at African universities, 5) weekly U.S.-Africa web-conference seminars, and 6) setting up a public-private funding partnership that includes academic and government agencies in the U.S., Europe, and Africa, and multinational mining and petroleum companies.

This award is co-funded by the Division of Human Resource Development and the Division of Earth Sciences.

Effective start/end date9/15/058/31/13


  • National Science Foundation: $2,915,667.00


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