Ethiopia has been subjected to widespread Cenozoic volcanism, rifting, and uplift associated with the Afar hot spot. The hot spot tectonism has been attributed to one or more thermal upwellings in the mantle, for example, starting thermal plumes and superplumes. We investigate the origin of the hot spot by imaging the S wave velocity structure of the upper mantle beneath Ethiopia using travel time tomography and by examining relief on transition zone discontinuities using receiver function stacks. The tomographic images reveal an elongated low-velocity region that is wide (>500 km) and extends deep into the upper mantle (>400 km). The anomaly is aligned with the Afar Depression and Main Ethiopian Rift in the uppermost mantle, but its center shifts westward with depth. The 410 km discontinuity is not well imaged, but the 660 km discontinuity is shallower than normal by ∼20-30 km beneath most of Ethiopia, but it is at a normal depth beneath Djibouti and the northwestern edge of the Ethiopian Plateau. The tomographic results combined with a shallow 660 km discontinuity indicate that upper mantle temperatures are elevated by ∼300 K and that the thermal anomaly is broad (>500 km wide) and extends to depths ∼660 km. The dimensions of the thermal anomaly are not consistent with a starting thermal plume but are consistent with a flux of excess heat coming from the lower mantle. Such a broad thermal upwelling could be part of the African Superplume found in the lower mantle beneath southern Africa.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geochemistry and Petrology