The Intraplate Earthquakes of SE Africa

Monday, 15 December 2014
Joao F B D Fonseca1 and Ana Domingues1,2, (1)Instituto Superior Técnico, Lison, Portugal, (2)Birkbeck, University of London, London, United Kingdom
Southeast Africa is a region of complex tectonic inheritance, combining early Archean cratonic blocks – the Zimbabwe and Kaapvaal cratons – and several collision belts ranging in age from ~2.6Ga (Limpopo Belt) to the Pan-African Orogeny, 800-500 Ma ago (Zambezi Belt, Mozambique Belt). Mesozoic rifting was the last tectonic event to leave an imprint in the lithosphere of the region. Tertiary deformation is mild and related to the extensional regime of the East African Rift System (EARS) further north. Instrumental seismology started in Johannesburg in 1910 (Saunders et al., 2008). Ambraseys and Adams (1991) conducted a reappraisal of the seismicity of Sub-Saharan Africa from 1900 to 1930, and the compilations by Krige and Maree (1948) and Gutenberg and F. Richter (1949) are main sources for the two subsequent decades. The available data can be considered complete since 1900 for magnitudes above M6 (Ambraseys and Adams, 1991), although major epicentral errors are likely to affect the early decades. Earthquakes above this threshold in the region to the south of Lake Malawi and to the east of the Okavango Rift are reported in 1919 (MS6.5, NE South Africa), 1932 (MS6.8, Natal Bay), 1940 (MS6.2, SE Mozambique), 1951 (MS6.0, Central Mozambique), 1957 (M6.0, Central Mozambique), again in 1957 (M6.2, Central Mozambique), 1958 (M6.0, Southern Zimbabwe), 1959 (M6.1, Southern Zambia) and 2006 (M7.0, Central Mozambique). The four M>6 earthquakes from 1957 to 1959 configure a cluster in time, followed by a shutdown (at M>6) that was to last nearly five decades. While a coincidence is unlikely, a causal link is challenged by the large spatial scatter of about 500 km. However, the fact that the four earthquakes occurred on the border of the Zimbabwe craton may provide a clue to the mechanism promoting the clustering. We combine these data with recent seismicity results (Fonseca et al., 2014) to discuss possible factors controlling the seismotectonics of the region.