The evolving contribution of border faults and intra-rift faults in early-stage East African rifts: insights from the Natron (Tanzania) and Magadi (Kenya) basins

Muirhead JD, Kattenhorn SA, Dindi EW, Gama R. "The evolving contribution of border faults and intra-rift faults in early-stage East African rifts: insights from the Natron (Tanzania) and Magadi (Kenya) basins.". In: AGU FALL 2013. San Francisco, California; 2013.

Date Presented:

December 2013


In the early stages of continental rifting, East African Rift (EAR) basins are conventionally depicted as asymmetric basins bounded on one side by a ~100 km-long border fault. As rifting progresses, strain concentrates into the rift center, producing intra-rift faults. The timing and nature of the transition from border fault to intra-rift-dominated strain accommodation is unclear. Our study focuses on this transitional phase of continental rifting by exploring the spatial and temporal evolution of faulting in the Natron (border fault initiation at ~3 Ma) and Magadi (~7 Ma) basins of northern Tanzania and southern Kenya, respectively. We compare the morphologies and activity histories of faults in each basin using field observations and remote sensing in order to address the relative contributions of border faults and intra-rift faults to crustal strain accommodation as rifting progresses. The ~500 m-high border fault along the western margin of the Natron basin is steep compared to many border faults in the eastern branch of the EAR, indicating limited scarp degradation by mass wasting. Locally, the escarpment shows open fissures and young scarps 10s of meters high and a few kilometers long, implying ongoing border fault activity in this young rift. However, intra-rift faults within ~1 Ma lavas are greatly eroded and fresh scarps are typically absent, implying long recurrence intervals between slip events. Rift-normal topographic profiles across the Natron basin show the lowest elevations in the lake-filled basin adjacent to the border fault, where a number of hydrothermal springs along the border fault system expel water into the lake. In contrast to Natron, a ~1600 m high, densely vegetated, border fault escarpment along the western edge of the Magadi basin is highly degraded; we were unable to identify evidence of recent rupturing. Rift-normal elevation profiles indicate the focus of strain has migrated away from the border fault into the rift center, where faults pervasively dissect 1.2-0.8 Ma trachyte lavas. Unlike Natron, intra-rift faults in the Magadi basin exhibit primarily steep, little-degraded fault scarps, implying greater activity than Natron intra-rift faults. Numerous fault-associated springs feed water into perennial Lake Magadi, which has no surface drainage input, yet survives despite a high evaporation rate that has created economically viable evaporite deposits. Calcite vein-filled joints are common along fault zones around Lake Magadi, as well as several cm veins around columnar joints that imply isotropic expansion of the fracture network under high pressures of CO2-rich fluids. Our work indicates that the locus of strain in this portion of the EAR transfers from the border fault to the center of the rift basin some time between 3 and 7 million years after rift initiation. This transition likely reflects the evolving respective roles of crustal flexure and magma budget in focusing strain, as well as the hydrothermal fluid budget along evolving fault zones.


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