East African earthquakes below 20 km depth and their implications for crustal structure

Andrew A. Nyblade, Charles A. Langston

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33 Scopus citations


We report source parameters for eight earthquakes in East Africa obtained using a number of techniques, including (1) inversion of long-period P and SH waves for moment tensors and source-time functions, (2) forward modelling of first-motion polarities and P and pP amplitudes on short-period seismograms, and (3) determination of pP-P and sP-P differential traveltimes from short-period records. The foci of these earthquakes lie between depths of 24 and 34 km in Archean and Proterozoic lithosphere, and all but one fault-plane solution indicates normal faulting (primarily E-W extension), consistent with the regional stress regime in East Africa. Because many of these earthquakes occurred in areas where the crust may have been thinned by rifting, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not their foci lie within the lower crust or upper mantle. Some of them, however, occurred away from rift structures in Proterozoic crust that is possibly 35-40 km thick or thicker, and thus they probably nucleated within the lower crust. Strength profile calculations suggest that in order to account for seismogenic (i.e. brittle) behaviour at sufficient depths to explain lower crustal earthquakes in East Africa, the lower crust must not only be composed of mafic lithologies, as suggested by previous investigators, but also that significantly more heat (∼100 per cent) must come from the upper crust than predicted by the crustal heat source distribution obtained from a 1-D interpretation of the linear relationship between heat flow and heat production observed in Proterozoic terrains within eastern and southern Africa. Precambrian mafic dike swarms throughout East Africa provide evidence for magmatic events which could have delivered large amounts of mafic material to the lower crust over a very broad area, thus explaining why the lower crust in East Africa might be mafic away from the volcanogenic rift valleys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-62
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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