Imaging detailed crustal structure and magmatic intrusion across the Ethiopian Rift using a dense linear broadband array

D.G. Cornwell, P.K.H. Maguire, R.W. England, G.W. Stuart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


Continental rifting is constrained by the architecture and heterogeneous composition of lithosphere within which rifting occurs. Recent studies in Ethiopia show that the Cenozoic northern Main Ethiopian Rift (NMER) has developed in a Neoproterozoic lithospheric framework modified by a Tertiary plume, magma injection having replaced mechanical failure as the main strain accommodation mechanism. A 400 km long profile of 91 broadband seismic stations striking southeast across the NMER from the uplifted Ethiopian plateau to beyond the southern margin of the rift has provided a high-resolution P receiver function section, here interpreted in terms of crustal architecture and composition in light of independent geophysical observations. Synrift deposits are identified over a ~10 km wide region beneath which strain was accommodated during the early stages of rifting. Major variations in crustal thickness and seismic properties along the profile divide the crust into four distinct regions. Beneath the northwestern rift flank (average crustal thickness 37.5 km and V /V 1.82) mafic middle and lower crustal rocks are overlain by a felsic upper crust. Here a high P wave velocity lowest crustal layer (northwestern lower crustal layer) is proposed to consist of frozen gabbroic sills and possibly some partial melt. We suggest partial melting of lower crustal rocks and/or fractional crystallization may have contributed to the bimodal prerift and synrift magmatism. Also, the presence of this layer through its effect on crustal and lithospheric strength and riftrelated diking may have controlled the location and development of the NMER in the vicinity of the profile. Beneath the rift (average crustal thickness 34.5 km and V /V 1.87) the crust is subdivided into a northwestern sector, with a thinned crust and strong likelihood of partially molten rocks, and a southeastern sector, where high velocity and density anomalies and the presence of a Moho "hole" in the receiver function profile constrain the limits of a well-developed crustal magma system. To the southeast, a 35 km wide zone marks the transition from intruded and thinned (by ~5 km) crust beneath the rift to the amagmatic, thick crust of the southeastern rift flank (average crustal thickness 39 km and V /V 1.77) suggested to be of felsic to intermediate composition.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberQ0AB03
Number of pages21
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2010


  • crustal structure
  • underplate
  • rifting
  • receiver function
  • magma intrusion
  • Ethiopia


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