Upper mantle seismic structure beneath the Ethiopian hot spot: Rifting at the edge of the African low-velocity anomaly

I. D. Bastow, A. A. Nyblade, G. W. Stuart, T. O. Rooney, M. H. Benoit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


The Miocene-Recent East African Rift in Ethiopia subaerially exposes the transitional stage of rifting within a young continental flood basalt province. As such, it is an ideal study locale for continental breakup processes and hot spot tectonism. We combine teleseismic traveltime data from 108 seismic stations deployed during two spatially and temporally overlapping broadband networks to present detailed tomographic images of upper mantle P and S wave seismic velocity structure beneath Ethiopia. Tomographic images reveal a ̃500 km wide low P and S wave velocity zone at 75 to ≥400 km depth in the upper mantle that extends from close to the eastern edge of the Main Ethiopian Rift (MER) westward beneath the uplifted and flood basalt-capped NW Plateau. We interpret this broad low-velocity region (LVR) as the upper mantle continuation of the African Superplume. Within the broad LVR, zones of particularly low velocity are observed with absolute delay times (δtP ̃ 4 s) that indicate the mantle beneath this region is amongst the slowest worldwide. We interpret these low velocities as evidence for partial melt beneath the MER and adjacent NW Plateau. Surprisingly, the lowest-velocity region is not beneath Afar but beneath the central part of the study area at ̃9°N, 39°E. Whether this intense low-velocity zone is the result of focused mantle upwelling and/or enhanced decompressional melting at this latitude is unclear. The MER is located toward the eastern edge of the broad low-velocity structure, not above its center. This observation, along with strong correlations between low-velocity zones and lithospheric structures, suggests that preexisting structural trends and Miocene-to-Recent rift tectonics play an important role in melt migration at the base of the lithosphere in this magmatic rift zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberQ12022
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'Upper mantle seismic structure beneath the Ethiopian hot spot: Rifting at the edge of the African low-velocity anomaly'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this