Investigating the Uplift of Southern Africa Using Coupled Thermo-mechanical and Surface Processes Models

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Romain Beucher1, Ritske S Huismans1, Roderick W Brown2 and Cecile Robin3, (1)University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway, (2)University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12, United Kingdom, (3)University of Rennes, Rennes Cedex, France
The topography of southern and eastern Africa (referred to as the African Superswell by Nyblade and Robinson, 1994) is anomalously high (> 900m) relative to central and west Africa, and also to other continents. The southern tip of Africa is surrounded by passive margins and mid ocean ridges as a result of continental rifting (early Jurassic in the east, late Jurassic in the west) and Gondwana break up. Recent studies have also identified the Earth's largest low seismic velocity anomaly in the mid-lower mantle beneath southern Africa and catalysed interest in the role the interactions between surface and deep processes play in generating large scale topography. Understanding how the relief evolved since rifting onset is fundamental to advancing knowledge about the coupling between deep tectonics and dynamic topography. Such a large scale topographic feature may also have important impact on atmosphere circulation and precipitations patterns. The complexity of such a system requires an integrated approach looking at interactions between tectonics and surface processes on a range of spatial and temporal scales. We use high-resolution numerical experiments coupling a 2D upper-mantle-scale thermo-mechanical model with a plan-form 2D surface processes model (SPM) to investigate the factors controlling the style of deformation. The experiments consist in simple extension models involving lithosphere with variable thickness (normal-like lithosphere to thick cratonic-like lithosphere) and explore the effects of rheological and compositional variability of the layer components of the crust and the lithosphere. Tomography and geochemistry evidences suggest a possible counterflow in the lower lithosphere in parts of the African western margins. We discuss the effect of a gravitationally driven lithospheric counterflow of depleted lower lithosphere (compositionally less dense than sublithospheric mantle) on the rift geometry and the effect of the isostatic responses in terms of uplift or subsidence on the surrounding topography. We explore a range of erosion, deposition, basin filling scenarios and compare the predictions to estimates derived from modelling of thermochronological data (Apatite Fission Track ages (AFT) and U-Th/He ages(Ahe)) and sediment budgets offshore.