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Large-scale variation in lithospheric structure along and across the Kenya rift

Naturevolume 354pages223227 (1991) | Download Citation



THE Kenya rift is one of the classic examples of a continental rift zone: models for its evolution range from extension of the lithosphere by pure shear1, through extension by simple shear2, to diapiric upwelling of an asthenolith3. Following a pilot study in 19854, the present work involved the shooting of three seismic refraction and wide-angle reflection profiles along the axis, across the margins, and on the northeastern flank of the rift (Fig. 1). These lines were intended to reconcile the different crustal thickness estimates for the northern and southern parts of the rift4–6 and to reveal the structure across the rift, including that beneath the flanks. The data, presented here, reveal significant lateral variations in structure both along and across the rift. The crust thins along the rift axis from 35 km in the south to 20 km in the north; there are abrupt changes in Moho depth and uppermost-mantle seismic velocity across the rift margins, and crustal thickening across the boundary between the Archaean craton and Pan-African orogenic belt immediately west of the rift. These results suggest that thickened crust may have controlled the rift's location, that there is a decrease in extension from north to south, and that the upper mantle immediately beneath the rift may contain reservoirs of magma generated at greater depth.

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