We address the extent to which regional variations in continental heat flow can be interpreted, making use of a heat flow data set from east and southern Africa. The first-order observation deriving from these heat flow measurements is a common pattern characterized in both regions by low heat flow in Archean cratons and higher heat flow in younger mobile belts. Two regional differences between east and southern Africa are superimposed on this common heat flow pattern: (1) heat flow in the Tanzania Craton is about 13 mW m-2 lower than in the Kalahari Craton, and (2) heat flow in the Mozambique Belt in east Africa is about 9 mW m-2 lower than in the southern African mobile belts, within about 250 km of the respective Archean cratons. The differences in heat flow between east and southern Africa suggest that the thermal structure of the lithosphere beneath these regions differs somewhat, and we attempt to resolve these differences in lithospheric thermal structure by examining four explanations that could account for the heat flow observations: (1) diminished heat flow in shallow boreholes in east Africa; (2) less crustal heat production in the regions of lower heat flow; (3) thicker lithosphere beneath the regions of lower heat flow; (4) cooler mantle beneath the areas of lower heat flow. We find it difficult to interpret uniquely the heat flow differences between east and southern Africa because available constraints on crustal heat production, crustal structure, lithospheric thickness and mantle temperatures are insufficient to discriminate among the possible explanations. Hence, extracting significant information about lithospheric thermal structure from regional heat flow variations requires more ancillary geochemical and geophysical information than Africa presently offers.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth-Surface Processes