Left-lateral transtension along the Ethiopian rift and constrains on the mantle-reference plate motions

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Abstract

We present the kinematics of the Ethiopian Rift, in the northern part of East African Rift System, derived from compilation of geodetic velocities, focal mechanism inversions, structural data analysis and geological profiles. In the central Ethiopian Rift, the GPS velocity field shows a systematic magnitude increase in ENE direction, and the incremental extensional strain axes recorded by earthquake focal mechanisms and fault slip inversion show ≈. N100°E orientation. This deviation between direction of GPS velocity vectors and orientation of incremental extensional strain is developed due to left lateral transtensional deformation along the NE-SW trending segment of the rift. This interpretation is consistent with the en-échelon pattern of tensional and transtensional faults, plus the distribution of the volcanic centers, and the asymmetry of the rift itself. We analyzed the kinematics of the Ethiopian Rift also relative to the mantle comparing the results in the deep and shallow hotspot reference frames. While the oblique orientation of the rift was controlled by the pre-existing lithospheric fabric, the two reference frames predict different kinematics of Africa and Somalia plates along the rift itself, both in magnitude and direction, and with respect to the mantle. However, the observed kinematics and tectonics along the rift are more consistent with a faster WSW-ward motion of Africa than Somalia observed in the shallow hotspot framework. The faster WSW motion of Africa with respect to Somalia plate is inferred to be due to the lower viscosity in the top asthenosphere (LVZ-low-velocity zone) beneath Africa. These findings have significant implication for the evolution of continental rifting in transtensional settings and provide evidence for the kinematics of the Ethiopian Rift in the context of the Africa-Somalia plate interaction in the mantle reference frame.

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Muluneh, A. A., Cuffaro, M., & Doglioni, C. (2014). Left-lateral transtension along the Ethiopian rift and constrains on the mantle-reference plate motions. Tectonophysics, 632(C), 21–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tecto.2014.05.036

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