Propagation of rifting along the Arabia-Somalia plate boundary: Into Afar

TitlePropagation of rifting along the Arabia-Somalia plate boundary: Into Afar
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsManighetti I, Tapponnier P, Gillot P-Y, Jacques E, Courtillot V, Armijo R, Ruegg J-C, King GCP
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research-Solid EarthJournal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth
Date PublishedMar
Accession NumberWOS:000072466700007

It is generally accepted that the Aden ridge has propagated westward from similar to 58 degrees E to the western tip of the Gulf of Aden/Tadjoura, at the edge of Afar. Here, we use new tectonic and geochronological data to examine the geometry and kinematics of deformation related to the penetration of that ridge on dry land in the Republic of Djibouti. We show that it veers northward, forming a narrow zone of dense faulting along thp northeastern edge of the Afar depression. The zone includes two volcanic rifts (Asal-Ghoubbet and Manda Inakir), connected to one another and to the submarine part of the ridge by transfer zones. Both rifts are composite, divided into two or three disconnected, parallel, NW-SE striking subrifts, all of which appear to have propagated northwestward. In Asal-Ghoubbet as in Manda Inakir, the subrifts appear to have formed in succession, through north directed jumps from subrifts more farther south. At present, the northernmost subrifts (Manda and Dirko Koma) of the Manda Inakir rift, form the current tip of the northward propagating Arabia-Somalia plate boundary in Afar. We account for most observations by a mechanical model similar to that previously inferred for the Gulf of Aden, in which propagation is governed by the intensity and direction of the minimum horizontal principal stress, sigma 3. We interpret the northward propagation on land, almost orthogonal to that in the gulf, to be related to necking of the Central Afar lithosphere where it is thinnest. Such necking may be a consequence of differential magmatic thickening, greater in the center of the Afar depression where the Ethiopian hot spot enhanced profuse basaltic effusion and underplating than along the edges of the depression. The model explains why the Aden ridge foregoes its WSW propagation direction, constant from similar to 58 degrees E to Asal-Ghoubbet. At a smaller scale, individual rifts and subrifts keep opening perpendicular to the Arabia-Somalia (or Danakil-Somalia) motion vector and propagate northwestward. Concurrently, such lithospheric cracks are forced to jump northward, such that the plate boundary remains inside the regional N-S necking zone. Changes of obliquity between the directions of overall and local propagation may account for different segmentation patterns, a small angle promoting long, en echelon subrifts, and a high-angle, smaller, nested, "subrifts within subrifts." The propagation mechanism is thus similar, whether in oceanic or continental lithosphere, the principal change being thp overall propagation path here governed by thickness changes rather than by the geometry in map view as previously inferred for the rest of the Aden ridge. Finally, because the same mechanism has led rifting along the Red Sea to propagate southward and jump to the western edge of Afar, the Arabia-Somalia and Arabia-Nubia plate boundaries tips have missed each other and keep overlapping further, leading to strain transfer by large-scale bookshelf faulting.