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Abstract

We report the first palaeomagnetic results from the Main Ethiopian Rift (MER), the northernmost sector of the East African rift system. This part of the MER shows an along-axis tectono-magmatic segmentation pattern similar to that of slow-spreading mid-ocean ridges, which developed during the past 1.9 Ma. The aims of our palaeomagnetic, structural and geochronological studies are to test plate kinematic models for the right-stepping, en echelon 60–80 km-long magmatic segments. Twenty palaeomagnetic sites were sampled on either basalt or ignimbrite outcropping in the region adjacent to, and within, the < 1.9 Ma-old tectono-magmatic segments of Gademsa—Koka, Boset and Fentale—Dofan. Five K—Ar age determinations were made to bracket the age of units studied in the palaeomagnetic analyses. The natural remanent magnetization intensity possibly exhibited a unimodal distribution with a value of 6.6 A/m (σ = 5.6 A/m) for the basalts and a bimodal distribution with magnetization intensity of 0.69 A/m (σ = 0.55 A/m) and 0.03 A/m (σ = 0.02 A/m), statistically similar to values from previous studies in the Afar triple junction zone (e.g. Kidane et al. 1999, 2002). Progressive heating, alternating field analysis, and susceptibility vs. temperature measurements indicated unblocking temperature ranging between 300 °C—600°C for basalts and between 500 °C—660 °C for ignimbrites, suggesting the magnetic mineralogy to be titanomagnetite and magnetite for the former and magnetite and titanohematite for the latter. Palaeomagnetic measurements using both TH and AF technique revealed quasi-single component of magnetization with viscous remanent magnetization (VRM) on a few samples. Principal component analysis and statistical averaging resulted in an overall mean palaeomagnetic direction of (Ds = 2.3°, Is = 7.8°, α95 = 7, K = 26.9, N = 17) which is statistically identical to the expected direction (D = 1.9°, I = 13.5°, α95 = 2.5, K = 105.6, N = 32) from the Apparent Polar Wander Path reference curve for Africa at 1.5 Ma (Besse & Courtillot 2003). The angular difference between the observed and expected directions above with their uncertainty is calculated to be 0.4° ± 7.5°. These results indicate that the Late Pliocene—Pleistocene rocks of the MER in the studied region do not suffer vertical axis rotation, arguing against transtensional and seafloor-spreading—transform kinematic models. We suggest that magma intrusion, rather than large offset faults, produce the right-stepping, en echelon magmatic segments of the MER, which is at the transition from continental to oceanic extension.

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