Distinguishing plume and metasomatized lithospheric mantle contributions to post-flood basalt volcanism on the Southeastern Ethiopian Plateau

Wendy R. Nelson, Barry B. Hanan, David W. Graham, Steven B. Shirey, Gezahegn Yirgu, Dereje Ayalew, Tanya Furman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Magmatism in the East African Rift System (EARS) contains a spatial and temporal record of changing contributions from the Afar mantle plume, anciently metasomatized lithosphere, the upper mantle and the continental crust. A full understanding of this record requires characterizing volcanic products both within the rift valley and on its flanks. In this study, three suites of mafic, transitional to alkaline lavas, were collected over a northeast-southwest distance of ∼150 km along the southeastern Ethiopian Plateau, adjacent to the Main Ethiopian Rift. Specifically, late Oligocene to Quaternary mafic lavas were collected from Chiro, Debre Sahil and the Bale Mountains. New major element, trace element, 40Ar/39Ar ages and isotopic results (Sr, Nd, Pb, Hf, Os, He) show spatial and temporal variation in the lavas caused by dynamical changes in the source of volcanism during the evolution of the EARS. The trace element compositions of Oligocene and Miocene Chiro lavas indicate derivation from mildly depleted and nominally anhydrous lithospheric mantle, with variable inputs from the crust. Further south, Miocene Debre Sahil and alkaline Bale Mountains lavas have enriched incompatible trace element ratios (e.g. Ba/Nb = 12-43, La/SmN = 3·1-4·9, Tb/YbN = 1·6-2·4). Additionally, their 87Sr/86Sr, 143Nd/144Nd, 176Hf/177Hf and 206Pb/204Pb values trend toward a radiogenic Pb (HIMU) component. Radiogenic 187Os/188Os in these lavas correlates positively with 206Pb/204Pb and trace element indicators consistent with ancient metasomatic enrichment of their mantle source. In contrast, transitional Miocene Bale Mountains lavas have lower incompatible trace element abundances, less enriched trace element ratios (Ba/Nb ∼7, La/SmN = 2·3-2·5) and less radiogenic isotopic signatures that originate from melting garnet-bearing, anhydrous lithospheric mantle (Tb/YbN = 2·5-2·9). Pliocene and Quaternary Bale Mountains basaltic lavas are chemically and isotopically similar to Main Ethiopian Rift lavas. Trace element and isotopic indicators in both of these suites denote an amphibole-bearing source distinct from that sampled by the older Bale Mountains lavas. Isotopically, Pliocene and Quaternary Bale lavas have notably less radiogenic Sr-Nd-Pb-Hf isotopic ratios. Quaternary Bale Mountains lavas have the strongest mantle plume contribution (3He/4He = 12·1-12·5 RA), while other Bale Mountains, Debre Sahil and Chiro lavas were derived dominantly by melting of lithospheric or upper mantle sources (3He/4He = 5·1-9·1 RA). A multi-stage, regional-scale model of metasomatism and partial melting accounts for the spatial and temporal variations on the southeastern Ethiopian Plateau. Early Debre Sahil and alkaline Bale Mountains mafic lavas are melts derived from Pan-African lithosphere containing amphibole-bearing metasomes, while later transitional Bale basalts are melts of lithosphere containing anhydrous, clinopyroxene-rich veins. These ancient metasomatized domains were eventually removed through preferential melting, potentially during thermal erosion of the lithosphere or lithospheric foundering. Pliocene and Quaternary Bale Mountains lavas erupted after tectonic extension progressed throughout Ethiopia and was accompanied by increased plume influence on the volcanic products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1063-1094
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Petrology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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