Geochemistry of East African Rift basalts: An overview

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Mafic lavas erupted along the East African Rift System from the Afar triangle in northern Ethiopia to the Rungwe province in southern Tanzania display a wide range of geochemical and isotopic compositions that reflect heterogeneity in both source and process. In areas with the lowest degree of crustal extension (the Western and Southern Kenya Rifts) primitive lavas record the greatest extent of lithospheric melting, manifest in elevated abundances of incompatible elements and highly radiogenic Sr-Nd-Pb isotopic compositions. Where prolonged extension has removed most or all of the mantle lithosphere (the Turkana and Northern Kenya Rifts), a larger role for sub-lithospheric processes is indicated. At intermediate degrees of extension (the Main Ethiopian Rift) both lithospheric and sub-lithospheric contributions are observed, and crustal assimilation occurs in some cases. Despite the wide compositional range of African Rift basalts, a restricted number of source domains contribute to magmatism throughout the area. These individual domains are: (1) the subcontinental mantle lithosphere; (2) a plume source with high-μ Sr-Nd-Pb-He isotopic affinities, present in all areas within and south of the Turkana Depression; and (3) a plume source with isotopic signatures analogous to those observed in some ocean islands, including high 3He/4He values, present throughout the Ethiopian Rift and the Afar region. The two plume sources may both be derived from the South African Superplume, which is likely to be a compositionally heterogeneous feature of the lower mantle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-160
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of African Earth Sciences
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jun 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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