The Lithospheric Structure of Southern Africa from Magnetotelluric Sounding

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Robert L Evans, WHOI, Woods Hole, MA, United States, Alan G Jones, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin, Ireland and Estella A Atekwana, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, United States
Measurements of mantle electrical conductivity, made through the magnetotelluric method, offer considerable insight into the structure of cratonic lithosphere. A particularly expansive data set has been collected in Southern Africa, started through the Southern Africa Magnetotelluric Experiment (SAMTEX) experiment, now continuing north through Zambia as part of the Project for Rift Initiation Development and Evolution (PRIDE) experiment. The combined data set highlights large variability in lithospheric structure that broadly correlates with surface geology: cratonic lithosphere is generally thick and electrically resistive, while much thinner lithosphere is seen beneath mobile belts.

In areas of relatively uniform resistivity structure, we have constructed resistivity-depth profiles and use new laboratory data to place constraints on the water content of lithospheric mantle. Uncertainty in our estimates arises from differences between different laboratory results, but our data are generally consistent with a slightly damp upper lithospheric mantle above a dry and strong cratonic root.

Other areas show complexity of structure that is difficult to understand using current knowledge of conductivity –the Bushveld complex, where the mantle is highly conductive, is one such example.

In southwestern Zambia, the lithosphere is seen to be very thin (around 50km) beneath mobile belt terrain, as was inferred nearly 40 years ago on the basis of high heatflow. The mantle is highly conductive, most likely due to a combination of elevated temperatures, water content and perhaps a trace amount of melting. This anomalous structure may be linked to the southwest propagation of the East African Rift system.