A Geodynamic Investigation of Plume-Lithosphere Interactions Beneath the East African Rift

Tahiry A. Rajaonarison, D. Sarah Stamps, John Naliboff, Andrew Nyblade, Emmanuel A. Njinju

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The force balance that drives and maintains continental rifting to breakup is poorly understood. The East African Rift (EAR) provides an ideal natural laboratory to elucidate the relative role of plate driving forces as only lithospheric buoyancy forces and horizontal mantle tractions act on the system. Here, we employ high-resolution 3D thermomechanical models to test whether: (a) the anomalous, rift-parallel surface deformation observed by Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data in the EAR are driven by viscous coupling to northward mantle flow associated with the African Superplume, and (b) the African Superplume is the dominant source mechanism of anomalous rift-parallel seismic anisotropy beneath the EAR. We calculate Lattice Preferred Orientations (LPO) and surface deformation from two types of mantle flow: (a) a scenario with multiple plumes constrained by shear wave tomography and (b) a single superplume model with northward boundary condition to simulate large-scale flow. Comparison of calculated LPO with observed seismic anisotropy, and surface velocities with GNSS and plate kinematics reveal that there is a better fit with the superplume mantle flow model, rather than the tomography-based (multiple plumes) model. We also find a relatively better fit spatially between observed seismic anisotropy and calculated LPO with the superplume model beneath northern and central EAR, where the superplume is proposed to be shallowest. Our results suggest that the viscous coupling of the lithosphere to northward mantle flow associated with the African Superplume drives most of the rift-parallel deformation and is the dominant source of the first-order pattern of the observed seismic anisotropy in the EAR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022JB025800
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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