Tectonics of the Afar Depression: A Review and Synthesis


This article outlines geomorphological and tectonic elements of the Afar Depression, and discusses its evolution. A combination of far-field stress, due to the convergence of the Eurasian and Arabian plates along the Zagros Orogenic Front, and uplift of the Afar Dome due to a rising mantle plume reinforced each other to break the lithosphere of the Arabian-Nubian Shield. Thermal anomalies beneath the Arabian-Nubian Shield in the range of 150 ⁰C-200 ⁰C, induced by a rising plume that mechanically and thermally eroded the base of the mantle lithosphere and generated pulses of prodigious flood basalt since ~30 Ma. Subsequent to the stretching and thinning the Afar Dome subsided to form the Afar Depression. The fragmentation of the Arabian-Nubian Shield led to the separation of the Nubian, Arabian and Somalian Plates along the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the Main Ethiopian Rift. The rotation of the intervening Danakil, East-Central, and Ali-Sabieh Blocks defined major structural trends in the Afar Depression. The Danakil Block severed from the Nubian plate at ~20 Ma, rotated anti-clockwise, translated from lower latitude and successively moved north, left-laterally with respect to Nubia. The westward propagating Gulf of Aden rift breached the Danakil Block from the Ali-Sabieh Block at ~2 Ma and proceeded along the Gulf of Tajura into the Afar Depression. The propagation and overlap of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden along the Manda Hararo-Gobaad and Asal-Manda Inakir rifts caused clockwise rotation of the East-Central Block. Faulting and rifting in the southern Red Sea, western Gulf of Aden and northern Main Ethiopian Rift superimposed on Afar. The Afar Depression initiated as diffused extension due to far-field stress and area increase over a dome elevated by a rising plume. With time, the lithospheric extension intensified, nucleated in weak zones, and developed into incipient spreading centers.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Tectonics; East Africa; Eastern Hemisphere; Sub-Saharan Africa; World; Nubian; Somalia; Active Rifting; Afar Depression; Lithospheric Rupture; Passive Rifting

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Article - Journal

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© 2005 Elsevier, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2005


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