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The East African rift system. This overview paper considers the East African rift system EARS as an intra-continental ridge system, comprising an axial rift. It describes the structural organization in three branches, the overall morphology, lithospheric cross-sections, the morphotectonics, the main tectonic features—with emphasis on the tension fractures—and volcanism in its relationships with the tectonics. The most characteristic features in the EARS are narrow elongate zones of thinned continental lithosphere related to asthenospheric intrusions in the upper mantle.
This hidden part of the rift structure is expressed on the surface by thermal uplift of the rift shoulders. The graben valleys and basins are organized over a major failure in the lithospheric mantle, and in the crust comprise a major border fault, linked in depth to a low angle detachment fault, inducing asymmetric roll-over pattern, eventually accompanied by smaller normal faulting and tilted blocks.
Considering the kinematics, divergent movements caused the continent to split along lines of preexisting lithospheric weaknesses marked by ancient tectonic patterns that focus the extensional strain. The hypothesis favored here is SE-ward relative divergent drifting of a not yet well individualized Somalian plate, a model in agreement with the existence of NW-striking transform and transfer zones. The East African rift system comprises a unique succession of graben basins linked and segmented by intracontinental transform, transfer and accommodation zones.
In an attempt to make a point on the rift system evolution through time and space, it is clear that the role of plume impacts is determinant.
The main phenomenon is formation of domes related to plume effect, weakening the lithosphere and, long after, failure inducing focused upper mantle thinning, asthenospheric intrusion and related thermal uplift of shoulders. The plume that had formed first at around 30 Ma was not in the Afar but likely in Lake Tana region Ethiopia. Seismicity of the Earth East African Rift.