Investigations of young (< 2.94 Ma) Hadar Formation deposits and their implication for basin development in southern Afar, Ethiopia
Friday, 19 December 2014
Sedimentary deposits in Pliocene extensional rift basins in the Afar Depression, Ethiopia chronicle the evolution and paleoenvironmental context of early humans. In the lower Awash Valley, the long-studied Hadar Basin still lacks constraints on basin development during the onset and termination of Hadar Formation (~3.8 – 2.94 Ma) sedimentation. Here we present new mapping and analysis of tephra deposits from a 26 meter-thick section of sediments exposed in the central Ledi-Geraru project area at Gulfaytu, including 20 m of sediments and tephras conformably overlying a 2.94 Ma tephra marker bed (BKT-2U) that previously served as the uppermost dated tephra of the Hadar Formation. Within the overlying 20 meters of primarily lacustrine strata, we identified eight post-BKT-2U tuffs; four were suitable for geochemical characterization, and one yielded an 40Ar/39Ar age of 2.931 ± 0.034 Ma. Based on regional sedimentation rates and the tephra 40Ar/39Ar age, we infer that the newly mapped Hadar Formation at Gulfaytu represents ca. 20 kyr of post-BKT-2 sedimentation. An erosional surface marked by a conglomerate truncates the strata at Gulfaytu, and shows similarities to the well-documented Busidima unconformity surface to the southwest, suggesting that structural changes after 2.93 Ma also affected basin conditions in central Ledi-Geraru. Furthermore, subsurface geophysical investigations support a model whereby deposition rates and the stratigraphic thickness of paleo-Lake Hadar sediments are greatest in the central Ledi-Geraru, ~20 km northeast of the well-exposed lacustrine-dominated sediments of the Hadar Formation. In addition to preserving a record of post-BKT-2 strata, the central Ledi Geraru hosts the thickest subsurface lacustrine sedimentary record within the Hadar Basin hitherto described, making central Ledi-Geraru an ideal location for collecting a continuous core by the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP).