Tertiary mafic lavas of Turkana, Kenya: Constraints on East African plume structure and the occurrence of high-μ volcanism in Africa

Tanya Furman, Kelly M. Kaleta, Julia G. Bryce, Barry B. Hanan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


The East African Rift System is important to understanding plume-initiated rifting as manifest in the geochemistry of mafic lavas erupted along the rift throughout its evolution. We present new data from high-MgO Tertiary lavas from Turkana, northern Kenya, to investigate regional melt source components, to identify the depths and degrees of melting, and to characterize spatially and temporally the chemical structure of the underlying mantle. The Turkana area is a region of high lithospheric extension that sits between two topographic uplifts thought to be surface expressions of one or more upwelling mantle plumes. Thinning of local crust is believed to be accompanied by widespread removal of the mantle lithosphere, causing the asthenosphere to be in close contact with the overlying crust. New geochemical data on basanites, picrites and basalts (MgO >7 wt %) tightly constrain the primary melt source regions of Tertiary volcanism. Initial isotopic signatures (143Nd/144 Nd = 0·51267-0·51283, 87Sr/86Sr = 0·7031-0·7036) and trace element abundances (Ce/Pb ∼30, La/Nb = 0·6-0·8 and Ba/Nb = 3-10) in these lavas are consistent with derivation from sub-lithospheric sources. Basalts and picrites erupted between ∼23 and 20 Ma have Sr-Nd-Pb-He isotopic characteristics indicative of high-μ influence, record high depths and degrees of partial melting, and are associated with rift propagation to the north and south. Accordingly, these lavas sample a source region that is geochemically distinct from that reflected both in Oligocene Ethiopian flood basalts and in the modern Afar region. The geochemical data support numerical and theoretical models as well as tomographic results providing for a complex thermal structure in the mantle beneath East Africa and are interpreted to reflect isotopically distinct plume heads beneath Tanzania and Afar that are derived from the chemically heterogeneous South African superplume.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1221-1244
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Petrology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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