The spatial clustering of fracture networks and vents in basaltic volcanic fields has been analyzed in three sectors of the East African Rift System, the classical example of an active continental rift. Fracture trace maps and monogenetic basaltic vents have been thus collected in the Afar Depression, in the Main Ethiopian Rift, and in the Virunga Belt (Western Rift). The mapped vents are generally younger than 2 Ma, and most are of Holocene age.

All the analyzed fracture networks have self-similar clustering with fractal exponents (Df) varying in the 1.54−1.85 range. Also, vents show a self-similar clustering with fractal exponents (Dv) in the 1.17−1.50 range. For all the studied sectors, the relationship Df > Dv has been observed. The fractal exponents for vents (Dv) of power-law distributions are computed in a range of lengths with a lower and an upper cutoff. The upper cutoff (Uco) for the fractal clustering of vents in the studied sectors of the East African Rift System are compared with the respective crust thickness derived by independent geophysical data. The computed Ucos for the studied sectors well match the crust thickness in the volcanic fields. A preliminary conceptual model to explain the relationships between the upper cutoffs of the fractal distribution of vents and the thickness of the crust in the volcanic fields is thus proposed in the light of the percolation theory.

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