The East African Rift (EAR) is an active continental rift zone in East Africa. The EAR began developing around the onset of the Miocene, 22–25 million years ago. In the past it was considered to be part of a larger Great Rift Valley that extended north to Asia Minor.
The rift, a narrow zone, is a developing divergent tectonic plate boundary where the African Plate is in the process of splitting into two tectonic plates, called the Somali Plate and the Nubian Plate, at a rate of 6–7 mm (0.24–0.28 in) annually. As extension continues, lithospheric rupture will occur within 10 million years; the Somali Plate will break off and a new ocean basin will form.
A series of distinct rift basins, the East African Rift System extends over thousands of kilometers. The EAR consists of two main branches. The Eastern Rift Valley (also known as Gregory Rift) includes the Main Ethiopian Rift, running eastward from the Afar Triple Junction, which continues south as the Kenyan Rift Valley. The Western Rift Valley includes the Albertine Rift, and farther south, the valley of Lake Malawi. To the north of the Afar Triple Junction, the rift follows one of two paths: west to the Red Sea Rift or east to the Aden Ridge in the Gulf of Aden.
The EAR runs from the Afar Triple Junction in the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia through eastern Africa, terminating in Mozambique. The EAR transects through Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. It also runs offshore of the coast of Mozambique along the Kerimba and Lacerda grabens, which are joined by the Davie Ridge, a 2,200 km-long (1,400 mi) relic fracture zone that cuts across the West Somali basin, straddling the boundary between Tanzania and Mozambique. The Davie Ridge ranges between 30–120 km (19–75 mi) wide, with a west-facing scarp (east-plunging arch) along the southern half of its length that rises to 2,300 m (7,500 ft) above the sea floor. Its movement is concurrent with the EAR.
Over time, many theories have tried to clarify the evolution of the East African Rift. In 1972 it was proposed that the EAR was not caused by tectonic activity, but rather by differences in crustal density. Since the 1990s, evidence has been found in favor of mantle plumes beneath the EAR. Others proposed an African superplume causing mantle deformation. The question is still debated.
The most recent and accepted view is the theory put forth in 2009: that magmatism and plate tectonics have a feedback with one another, controlled by oblique rifting conditions. At that time it was suggested that lithospheric thinning generated volcanic activity, further increasing the magmatic processes at play such as intrusions and numerous small plumes. These processes further thin the lithosphere in saturated areas, forcing the thinning lithosphere to behave like a mid-ocean ridge.
Although reasonably considered, the exact conformation of deep-rooted mantle plumes is still a matter of active research. Studies that contribute to the broader understanding on the evolution of rifts can be grouped into the techniques of isotope geochemistry, seismic tomography and geodynamical modeling.
The varying geochemical signatures of a suite of Ethiopian lavas suggest multiple plume sources: at least one of deep mantle origin, and one from within the subcontinental lithosphere. In accordance, a study of Halldórsson et al. in 2014 compare the geochemical signature of rare earth’s isotopes from Xenolith and lava samples collected in the EAR. The results corroborate the coexistence of a superplume “common to the entire rift” with another mantle material source being either of subcontinental type or of mid-ocean ridge type.
The geophysical method of Seismic_tomography is a suitable tool to investigate Earth’s subsurface structures deeper than the crust. It is an inverse problem technique that models which are the velocities of the inner Earth that reproduce the seismographic data recorded all around the world. Recent improvements of tomographic Earth models of P-wave and S-wave velocities suggest that a superplume upwelling from the lower mantle at the northeastern EAR feeds plumes of smaller scale into the upper mantle.
Parallel to geological and geophysical measures (e.g. isotope ratios and seismic velocities) it is constructive to test hypotheses on computer based geodynamical models. A 3D numerical geodynamical model of the plume-crust coupling was capable of reproducing the lateral asymmetry of the EAR around the Tanzania craton. Numerical modeling of plume-induced continental break-up shows two distinct stages, crustal rifting followed by lithospheric breakup, and the upwelling between stages of an upper mantle plume.
Prior to rifting, enormous continental flood basalts erupted on the surface and uplift of the Ethiopian, Somali, and East African plateaus occurred. The first stage of rifting of the EAR is characterized by rift localization and magmatism along the entire rift zone. Periods of extension alternated with times of relative inactivity. There was also the reactivation of a pre-Cambrian weakness in the crust, a suture zone of multiple cratons, displacement along large boundary faults, and the development of deep asymmetric basins. The second stage of rifting is characterized by the deactivation of large boundary faults, the development of internal fault segments, and the concentration of magmatic activity towards the rifts.
Today, the narrow rift segments of the East African Rift system form zones of localized strain. These rifts are the result of the actions of numerous normal faults which are typical of all tectonic rift zones. As aforementioned, voluminous magmatism and continental flood basalts characterize some of the rift segments, while other segments, such as the Western branch, have only very small volumes of volcanic rock.
The African continental crust is generally cool and strong. Many cratons are found throughout the EAR, such as the Tanzania and Kaapvaal cratons. The cratons are thick, and have survived for billions of years with little tectonic activity. They are characterized by greenstone belts, tonalites, and other high-grade metamorphic lithologies. The cratons are of significant importance in terms of mineral resources, with major deposits of gold, antimony, iron, chromium and nickel.
A large volume of continental flood basalts erupted during the Oligocene, with the majority of the volcanism coinciding with the opening of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden approximately 30 Ma. The composition of the volcanics are a continuum of ultra-alkaline to tholeiitic and felsic rocks. It has been suggested that the diversity of the compositions could be partially explained by different mantle source regions. The EAR also cuts through old sedimentary rocks deposited in ancient basins.
The East African Rift Zone includes a number of active as well as dormant volcanoes, among them: Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Mount Longonot, Menengai Crater, Mount Karisimbi, Mount Nyiragongo, Mount Meru and Mount Elgon, as well as the Crater Highlands in Tanzania. Although most of these mountains lie outside of the rift valley, the EAR created them.
Active volcanos include Erta Ale, DallaFilla, and Ol Doinyo Lengai, the former of which is a continuously active basaltic shield volcano in the Afar Region of northeastern Ethiopia. When DallaFilla erupted in 2008 it was the largest volcanic eruption in Ethiopia in recorded history. The Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano is currently the only active natrocarbonatite volcano in the world. The magma contains almost no silica, making the flow viscosity extremely low. “Its lava fountains crystallize in midair then shatter like glass” according to the National Geographic. Approximately 50 volcanic structures in Ethiopia alone have documented activity since the onset of the Holocene.
The EAR is the largest seismically active rift system on Earth today. The majority of earthquakes occur near the Afar Depression, with the largest earthquakes typically occurring along or near major border faults. Seismic events in the past century are estimated to have reached a maximum moment magnitude of 7.0. The seismicity trends parallel to the rift system, with a shallow focal depth of 12–15 km (7.5–9.3 mi) beneath the rift axis. Further away from the rift axis, focal depths can reach depths of over 30 km (19 mi). Focal mechanism solutions strike NE and frequently demonstrate normal dip-slip faults, although left-lateral motion is also observed.
The Rift Valley in East Africa has been a rich source of hominid fossils that allow the study of human evolution. The rapidly eroding highlands quickly filled the valley with sediments, creating a favorable environment for the preservation of remains. The bones of several hominid ancestors of modern humans have been found here, including those of "Lucy", a partial australopithecine skeleton discovered by anthropologist Donald Johanson dating back over 3 million years. Richard and Mary Leakey have done significant work in this region also. More recently, two other hominid ancestors have been discovered here: a 10-million-year-old ape called Chororapithecus abyssinicus, found in the Afar rift in eastern Ethiopia, and Nakalipithecus nakayamai, which is also 10 million years old.
The 2002 Kalehe earthquake occurred on October 24 at 06:08 UTC. This earthquake had a magnitude Mw 6.2, and the epicenter was located in Democratic Republic of the Congo, near Lake Kivu. Two people were reported dead. Building damage was reported in Goma, Lwiro, Kalehe, and Mugeri. The seismicity, volcanism, and uplift in the basin of Lake Kivu delimits the rift of a tectonic plate. Lake Kivu belongs to the western branch of the East African Rift System (EARS). The western branch is usually divided into several segments, and Lake Kivu belongs to the northern segment.Afar Triple Junction
The Afar Triple Junction (also called the Afro-Arabian Rift System) is located along a divergent plate boundary dividing the Nubian, Somali, and Arabian plates. This area is considered a present-day example of continental rifting leading to seafloor spreading and producing an oceanic basin. Here, the Red Sea Rift meets the Aden Ridge and the East African Rift. It extends a total of 6,500 kilometers (4,000 mi) in three arms from the Afar Triangle to Mozambique.The connecting three arms form a triple junction. The northern most branching arm extends North through the Red Sea and into the Dead Sea, while the eastern arm extends through the Gulf of Aden and connects to the Mid-Indian Ocean ridge further to the east. Both of these rifting arms are below sea level and are similar to a mid-ocean ridge.The third rifting arm runs south extending around 4000 km through the countries of Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and, finally, Mozambique. This southern rifting arm is better known as the East African Rift or the East African Rift System (EARS), when it includes the Afar Triangle.African Great Lakes
The African Great Lakes (Swahili: Maziwa Makuu) are a series of lakes constituting the part of the Rift Valley lakes in and around the East African Rift. They include Lake Victoria, the third-largest fresh water lake in the world by area, Lake Tanganyika, the world's second-largest freshwater lake by volume and depth, and Lake Malawi, the world's eighth-largest fresh water lake by area. Collectively, they contain 31,000 km3 (7400 cu mi) of water, which is more than either Lake Baikal or the North American Great Lakes. This total constitutes about 25% of the planet's unfrozen surface fresh water. The large rift lakes of Africa are the ancient home of great biodiversity, and 10% of the world's fish species live there.
Countries in the African Great Lakes region (sometimes also called Greater Lakes region) include Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.The Great Lakes area, where colonial era borders cut through ethnic groups, has in the last 20 years been a crucible of conflict that has launched multiple uprisings and invasions. The United Nations, the United States, and several European countries have special envoys or representatives to the Great Lakes region. Local populations recently have denounced the presence of these 'agency' groups like the UN, saying they often do not actually prevent attacks or protect local villages , but are posted for whitewashing purposes or to safeguard western envoys, citizens and their business interests.
They have also been accused by both local and other African nations of participating in human rights abuses and rampant gender based exploitation and traffickingAfrican Plate
The African Plate is a major tectonic plate straddling the equator as well as the prime meridian. It includes much of the continent of Africa, as well as oceanic crust which lies between the continent and various surrounding ocean ridges. Between 60 million years ago and 10 million years ago, the Somali Plate began rifting from the African Plate along the East African Rift. Since the continent of Africa consists of crust from both the African and the Somali plates, some literature refers to the African Plate as the Nubian Plate to distinguish it from the continent as a whole.Albertine Rift
The Albertine Rift is the western branch of the East African Rift, covering parts of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
It extends from the northern end of Lake Albert to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika.
The geographical term includes the valley and the surrounding mountains.Aswa Dislocation
The Aswa Dislocation, also called the Aswa mylonite belt, Aswa Lineament or Aswa Shear Zone is a north-west trending ductile shear zone that runs to the east of Lake Victoria in East Africa.Ayesha River
Ayesha River is an intermittent river of eastern Ethiopia. Its drainage basin is part of the East African Rift.Congo Basin
The Congo Basin is the sedimentary basin of the Congo River. The Congo Basin is located in Central Africa, in a region known as west equatorial Africa. The Congo Basin region is sometimes known simply as the Congo.
The basin begins in the highlands of the East African Rift system with input from the Chambeshi River, the Uele and Ubangi Rivers in the upper reaches and the Lualaba River draining wetlands in the middle reaches. Due to the young age and active uplift of the East African Rift at the headlands, the river's yearly sediment load is very large but the drainage basin occupies large areas of low relief throughout much of its area. The basin is a total of 3.7 million square kilometers and is home to some of the largest undisturbed stands of tropical rainforest on the planet, in addition to large wetlands. The basin ends where the river empties its load in the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean. The climate is equatorial tropical, with two rainy seasons including very high rainfalls, and high temperature year round. The basin is home to the endangered western lowland gorilla.
The basin was the watershed of the Congo River populated by pygmy peoples, and eventually Bantu peoples migrated there and founded the Kingdom of Kongo. Belgium, France, and Portugal later established colonial control over the entire region by the late 19th century. The General Act of the Berlin Conference of 1885 gave a precise definition to the "conventional basin" of the Congo, which included the entire actual basin plus some other areas. The General Act bound its signatories to neutrality within the conventional basin, but this was not respected during the First World War.Geology of the Comoros
The Comoros island chain in the Mozambique Channel is the result of the rifting of Madagascar away from Africa as well as "hotspot" mantle plume activity. The region is also impact by seismicity and deformation associated with the East African Rift system and the Comoros region is one of the best places in the world to study rift-hotspot interactions. The islands remain volcanically active.Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley is a series of contiguous geographic trenches, approximately 6,000 kilometres (3,700 mi) in total length, that runs from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon in Asia to Mozambique in southeastern Africa. While the name continues in some usages, it is rarely used in Geology nowadays as it is considered an imprecise merging of separate though related rift and fault systems.
Today, the term is most often used to refer to the valley of the East African Rift, the divergent plate boundary which extends from the Afar Triple Junction southward across eastern Africa, and is in the process of splitting the African Plate into two new separate plates. Geologists generally refer to these incipient plates as the Nubian Plate and the Somali Plate.Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia
The Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, (or Main Ethiopian Rift or Ethiopian Rift Valley) is a branch of the East African Rift that runs through Ethiopia in a southwest direction from the Afar Triple Junction. In the past, it was seen as part of a "Great Rift Valley" that ran from Mozambique to Syria.Gregory Rift
The Gregory Rift is the eastern branch of the East African Rift fracture system. The rift is being caused by the separation of the Somali plate from the Nubian plate, driven by a thermal plume. Although the term is sometimes used in the narrow sense of the Kenyan Rift, the larger definition of the Gregory Rift is the set of faults and grabens extending southward from the Gulf of Aden through Ethiopia and Kenya into Northern Tanzania, passing over the local uplifts of the Ethiopian and Kenyan domes.
Ancient fossils of early hominins, the ancestors of humans, have been found in the southern part of the Gregory Rift.Marsabit
Marsabit is a town in the northern Marsabit County in Kenya. It is situated in the former Eastern Province and is almost surrounded by the Marsabit National Park and Marsabit National Reserve. The town is located 170 km east of the center of the East African Rift, at 37°58' E, 2°19' N (37.97°E, 2.32 N) at an elevation of between 1300 and 1400 metres. It serves as the capital of Marsabit County, and lies southeast of the Chalbi Desert in a forested area known for its volcanoes and crater lakes and others.Peralkaline rock
Peralkaline rocks include those igneous rocks which have a deficiency of aluminium such that sodium and potassium are in excess of that needed for feldspar. The presence of aegerine (sodium pyroxene) and riebeckite (sodium amphibole) are indicative of peralkaline conditions. An example is the peralkaline granite that forms the islet of Rockall in the North Atlantic Ocean.Peralkaline rocks are indicative of continental rift basin-related volcanicity, for example the peralkaline rhyolite lavas of the East African Rift in central Kenya.Rift valley
A rift valley is a linear shaped lowland between several highlands or mountain ranges created by the action of a geologic rift or fault. A rift valley is formed on a divergent plate boundary, a crustal extension or spreading apart of the surface, which is subsequently further deepened by the forces of erosion. When the tensional forces are strong enough to cause the plate to split apart, a center block drops between the two blocks at its flanks, forming a graben. The drop of the center creates the nearly parallel steeply dipping walls of a rift valley when it is new. That feature is the beginning of the rift valley, but as the process continues, the valley widens, until it becomes a large basin that fills with sediment from the rift walls and the surrounding area. One of the best known examples of this process is the East African Rift. On Earth, rifts can occur at all elevations, from the sea floor to plateaus and mountain ranges in continental crust or in oceanic crust. They are often associated with a number of adjoining subsidiary or co-extensive valleys, which are typically considered part of the principal rift valley geologically.Rimasuchus
Rimasuchus is an extinct genus of crocodile from the Miocene of Egypt and possibly Libya. Only one species - Rimasuchus lloydi - is currently known. It was previously thought to be a species of Crocodylus, but is now thought to be more closely related to the modern African dwarf crocodiles (Osteolaemus).
Fossil crocodiles from all over Africa and the Middle East of Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene age were previously referred to R. lloydi. The majority are now known to be extinct forms of Crocodylus. The generic name "Rimasuchus" comes from the Latin words rima, meaning "crack" (referencing the East African rift valley), which is ironic because Rimasuchus is not currently known from deposits in East Africa.Somali Plate
The Somali Plate is a minor tectonic plate, which straddles the equator in the eastern hemisphere. It is approximately centered on the island of Madagascar and includes about half of the East coast of Africa, from the Gulf of Aden in the North through the East African Rift Valley. The southern boundary with the Nubian-African plate is a diffuse plate boundary consisting of the Lwandle plate.Transfer zone
A transfer zone in geology is an area where deformational strain is transferred from one structural element to another typically from fault to fault in rift systems. Therefore, listric faults and monoclinal folds in the hanging wall are typical structures linked by transfer zones; however, complexities do exist. The terms interbasin and intrabasin transfer zones have been proposed to delineate the magnitude of the transfer zone. Transfer zones can be described according to the fault dip directions; synthetic or conjugate and according to their deformation style; convergent or divergent. Transfer zones can be farther identified by its maturity or (fault propagation evolution); whether the major fault relationship is approaching, overlapping, collateral or collinear. Since transfer zones are normally found in extensional settings many studies have been done within the East African rift system and the Gulf of Suez rift system. Transfer zones have also played a role in hydrocarbon exploration and extraction within the Albertine graben.Virunga Mountains
The Virunga Mountains (also known as Mufumbiro) are a chain of volcanoes in East Africa, along the northern border of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Uganda. The mountain range is a branch of the Albertine Rift Mountains, which border the western branch of the East African Rift. They are located between Lake Edward and Lake Kivu. The name "Virunga" is an English version of the Kinyarwanda word ibirunga, which means "volcanoes".
The mountain range consists of eight major volcanoes. Most of them are dormant, except Mount Nyiragongo 3,462 metres (11,358 ft) and Mount Nyamuragira 3,063 metres (10,049 ft), both in the DRC. Recent eruptions occurred in 2006 and in January 2010. Mount Karisimbi is the highest volcano at 4,507 metres (14,787 ft). The oldest mountain is Mount Sabyinyo, which rises 3,634 metres (11,923 ft) above sea level.
The Virunga Mountains are home of the critically endangered mountain gorilla, listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species due to habitat loss, poaching, disease, and war (Butynski et al. 2003). The Karisoke Research Center, founded by Dian Fossey to observe gorillas in their native habitat, is located between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke.
Major African geological formations
|Cratons and shields|
Regions of Africa