Mid-lithospheric Discontinuity Beneath the Malawi Rift, Deduced from Gravity Studies and its Relation to the Rifting Process.

Monday, 14 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Emmanuel Atem Njinju1, Estella A Atekwana1, Kevin Lee Mickus2, Mohamed G Abdelsalam1, Eliot A Atekwana1 and Daniel A Laó-Dávila1, (1)Oklahoma State University Main Campus, Stillwater, OK, United States, (2)Southwest Missouri State Univ, Springfield, MO, United States
The World Gravity Map satellite gravity data were used to investigate the lithospheric structure beneath the Cenozoic-age Malawi Rift which forms the southern extension of the Western Branch of the East African Rift System. An analysis of the data using two-dimensional (2D) power spectrum methods indicates the two distinctive discontinuities at depths of 31‒44 km and 64‒124 km as defined by the two steepest slopes of the power spectrum curves. The shallower discontinuity corresponds to the crust-mantle boundary (Moho) and compares well with Moho depth determined from passive seismic studies. To understand the source of the deeper discontinuity, we applied the 2D power spectrum analysis to other rift segments of the Western Branch as well as regions with stable continental lithospheres where the lithospheric structure is well constrained through passive seismic studies. We found that the deeper discontinuity corresponds to a mid-lithospheric discontinuity (MLD), which is known to exist globally at depths between 60‒150 km and as determined by passive seismic studies. Our results show that beneath the Malawi Rift, there is no pattern of N-S elongated crustal thinning following the surface expression of the Malawi Rift. With the exception of a north-central region of crustal thinning (< 35 km), most of the southern part of the rift is underlain by thick crust (~40‒44 km). Different from the Moho, the MLD is shallower beneath the axis of the Malawi Rift forming a N-S trending zone with depths of 64‒80 km, showing a broad and gentle topography. We interpret the MLD as representing a sharp density contrast resulting from metasomatized lithosphere due to lateral migration along mobile belts of hot mantle melt or fluids from a distant plume and not from an ascending asthenosphere. These fluids weaken the lithosphere enhancing rift nucleation. The availability of satellite gravity worldwide makes gravity a promising technique for determining the MLD globally.