To investigate the mechanisms for the initiation and early-stage evolution of the nonvolcanic southernmost segments of the East African Rift System (EARS), we installed and operated 35 broadband seismic stations across the Malawi and Luangwa rift zones over a 2 year period from mid-2012 to mid-2014. Stacking of over 1900 high-quality receiver functions provides the first regional-scale image of the 410 and 660 km seismic discontinuities bounding the mantle transition zone (MTZ) within the vicinity of the rift zones. When a 1-D standard Earth model is used for time-depth conversion, a normal MTZ thickness of 250 km is found beneath most of the study area. In addition, the apparent depths of both discontinuities are shallower than normal with a maximum apparent uplift of 20 km, suggesting widespread upper mantle high-velocity anomalies. These findings suggest that it is unlikely for a low-velocity province to reside within the upper mantle or MTZ beneath the nonvolcanic southern EARS. They also support the existence of relatively thick and strong lithosphere corresponding to the widest section of the Malawi rift zone, an observation that is consistent with strain localization models and fault polarity and geometry observations. We postulate that the Malawi rift is driven primarily by passive extension within the lithosphere attributed to the divergent rotation of the Rovuma microplate relative to the Nubian plate, and that contributions of thermal upwelling from the lower mantle are insignificant in the initiation and early-stage development of rift zones in southern Africa.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Research Center/Lab(s)

Center for High Performance Computing Research

Keywords and Phrases

East African Rift; Malawi Rift; Mantle Transitionn Zone; Receiver Function

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version

Final Version

File Type





© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Nov 2016


Article Location