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The link between Somalian Plate rotation and the East African Rift System: an analogue modelling study


  • Zwaan, Frank ORCID Institute of Geological Sciences, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 1+3, 3012 Bern, Switzerland Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Chemin du Musée 6, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
  • Schreurs, Guido ORCID Institute of Geological Sciences, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 1+3, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 07.08.2023
Published in:
  • Solid Earth. - Copernicus GmbH. - 2023, vol. 14, no. 8, p. 823-845
English The East African Rift System (EARS) represents a major tectonic feature that splits the African continent between the Nubian Plate situated to the west and the Somalian Plate to the east. The EARS comprises various rift segments and microplates and represents a key location for studying rift evolution. Researchers have proposed various scenarios for the evolution of the EARS, but the impact of continent-scale rotational rifting, linked to the rotation of the Somalian Plate, has received only limited attention. In this study we apply analogue models to explore the dynamic evolution of the EARS within its broader rotational-rifting framework. Our models show that rotational rifting leads to the lateral propagation of deformation towards the rotation axis, which reflects the general southward propagation of the EARS. However, we must distinguish between the propagation of distributed deformation, which can move very rapidly, and localized deformation, which can significantly lag behind the former. The various structural-weakness arrangements in our models (simulating the pre-existing lithospheric heterogeneities that localize rifting along the EARS) lead to a variety of structures. Laterally overlapping weaknesses are required for localizing parallel rift basins to create rift pass structures, leading to the rotation and segregation of microplates such as the Victoria Plate in the EARS, as well as to the simultaneous north- and southward propagation of the adjacent Western Rift. Additional model observations concern the development of early pairs of rift-bounding faults flanking the rift basins, followed by the localization of deformation along the axes of the most developed rift basins. Furthermore, the orientation of rift segments with respect to the regional (rotational) plate divergence affects deformation along these segments: oblique rift segments are less wide due to a strike-slip deformation component. Overall, our model results generally fit the large-scale present-day features of the EARS, with implications for general rift development and for the segregation and rotation of the Victoria Plate.
Faculté des sciences et de médecine
Département des Géosciences
  • English
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