Mechanisms leading to the initiation and early-stage development of continental rifts remain enigmatic, in spite of numerous studies. Among the various rifting models, which were developed mostly based on studies of mature rifts, far-field stresses originating from plate interactions (passive rifting) and nearby active mantle upwelling (active rifting) are commonly used to explain rift dynamics. Situated atop of the hypothesized African Superplume, the incipient Okavango Rift Zone (ORZ) of northern Botswana is ideal to investigate the role of mantle plumes in rift initiation and development, as well as the interaction between the upper and lower mantle. The ORZ developed within the Neoproterozoic Damara belt between the Congo Craton to the northwest and the Kalahari Craton to the southeast. Mantle structure and thermal status beneath the ORZ are poorly known, mostly due to a complete paucity of broadband seismic stations in the area. As a component of an interdisciplinary project funded by the United States National Science Foundation, a broad-band seismic array was deployed over a 2-yr period between mid-2012 and mid-2014 along a profile 756 km in length. Using P-to-S receiver functions (RFs) recorded by the stations, the 410 and 660 km discontinuities bordering the mantle transition zone (MTZ) are imaged for the first time. When a standard Earth model is used for the stacking of RFs, the apparent depths of both discontinuities beneath the Kalahari Craton are about 15 km shallower than those beneath the Congo Craton. Using teleseismic Pand S-wave traveltime residuals obtained by this study and lithospheric thickness estimated by previous studies, we conclude that the apparent shallowing is the result of a 100-150 km difference in the thickness of the lithosphere between the two cratons. Relative to the adjacent tectonically stable areas, no significant anomalies in the depth of the MTZ discontinuities or in teleseismic P- and S-wave traveltime residuals are found beneath the ORZ. These observations imply an absence of significant thermal anomalies in the MTZ and in the upper mantle beneath the incipient rift, ruling out the role of mantle plumes in the initiation of the ORZ. We propose that the initiation and development of the ORZ were the consequences of relative movements between the South African block and the rest of the African plate along a zone of lithospheric weakness between the Congo and Kalahari cratons. An area of thinner-than-normal MTZ is found at the SW corner of the study area. This anomaly, if confirmed by future studies, could suggest significant transferring of heat from the lower to the upper mantle.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Research Center/Lab(s)

Center for High Performance Computing Research

Keywords and Phrases

Geochronology; Geologic Models; Plates (Structural Components); Seismology; Shear Waves; Structural Geology; Thermal Plumes; Wave Propagation; Broad-Band Seismic Stations; Continental Tectonics: Extensional; Cratons; Interdisciplinary Project; Lithospheric Thickness; Mantle Transition Zone; National Science Foundations; S-Receiver Functions; Tectonics; Craton; Extensional Tectonics; Mantle; Mantle Plume; Plate Tectonics; Rift Zone; Rifting; Seismic Survey; Seismic Wave; Temperature Anomaly; Transition Zone; Wave Propagation; Botswana; Congo Craton; Damara Belt; Kalahari Craton; Namibia; Okavango Rift Zone

Geographic Coverage


International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version

Final Version

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© 2015 Yu, Youqiang and Liu, Kelly H. and Moidaki, M. and Reed, Cory A. and Gao, Stephen S., All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jul 2015


Article Location