Use of a high-precision gravity survey to understand the formation of oceanic crust and the role of melt at the southern Red Sea rift in Afar, Ethiopia
E. Lewi, D. Keir, Y. Birhanu, J. Blundy, G. Stuart, T. Wright, E. Calais, 2016. "Use of a high-precision gravity survey to understand the formation of oceanic crust and the role of melt at the southern Red Sea rift in Afar, Ethiopia", Magmatic Rifting and Active Volcanism, T. J. Wright, A. Ayele, D. J. Ferguson, T. Kidane, C. Vye-Brown
Download citation file:
The Red Sea arm of the triple junction in northeastern Ethiopia provides an opportunity to investigate rift-forming processes at divergent boundaries. In an attempt to study the subsurface, especially the distribution and role of melt in the rifting process, we carried out a high-precision gravity survey with a mean-square error of 0.011 mgal, assisted by differential global positioning system measurements. The profile is 162 km long and strikes ENE–WSW across the southern part of the Red Sea rift at a latitude of approximately 11.75° N. Modelling of the Bouguer anomaly, constrained by a priori information, showed detailed in-rift variations in the crustal structure and the distribution of melt beneath the rift axis. Our interpretation suggested that the process of continental break-up is governed by crustal stretching and rifting accompanied by the emplacement of melt into the lower crust above a lower density upper mantle. In addition, we interpreted the thickness of the crust beneath this part of the rift axis to be 25 km. The subsurface distribution of density beneath the profile shows that the south-central part of the Red Sea rift has modified thinned crust, intruded by high-density material, which resembles the crust formed during seafloor spreading.
Figures & Tables
A major rifting episode began in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia in September 2005. Over a ten-day period, c. 2.5 km3 of magma were intruded along a 60 km-long dyke separating the Arabian and Nubian plates. Over the next five years, a further 13 dyke intrusions caused continued extension, eruptions and seismicity. This activity led to a renewed international focus on the role of magmatism in rifting, with major international collaborative projects working in Afar and Ethiopia to study the ongoing activity and to place it in a broader context. This book brings together articles that explore the role of magmatism in rifting, from the initiation of continental break-up through to full seafloor spreading. We also explore the hazards related to rifting and the associated volcanism. This work has implications for our understanding of how continents break-up and the associated distribution of resources in rift basins and continental margins.