Plume dynamics beneath the African plate inferred from the geochemistry of the Tertiary basalts of southern Ethiopia

George, R. and Rogers, N. (2002). Plume dynamics beneath the African plate inferred from the geochemistry of the Tertiary basalts of southern Ethiopia. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology, 144(3) pp. 286–304.



Southern Ethiopian flood basalts erupted in two episodes: the pre-rift Amaro and Gamo transitional tholeiites (45-35 million years) followed by the syn-extensional Getra-Kele alkali basalts (19-11 million years). These two volcanic episodes are distinct in both trace element and isotope ratios (Zr/Nb ratios in Amaro/Gamo lavas fall between 7 and 14, and 3-4.7 in the Getra-Kele lavas whereas 206Pb/204Pb ratios fall between 18-19 and 18.9-20, respectively). The distinctive chemistries of the two eruptive phases record the tapping of two distinct source regions: a mantle plume source for the Amaro/Gamo phase and an enriched continental mantle lithosphere source for the Getra-Kele phase. Isotope and trace element variations within the Amaro/Gamo lavas reflect polybaric fractional crystallisation initiated at high pressures accompanied by limited crustal contamination. We show that clinopyroxene removal at high (0.5 GPa) crustal pressures provides an explanation for the common occurrence of transitional tholeiites in Ethiopia relative to other, typically tholeiitic flood basalt provinces. The mantle plume signature inferred from the most primitive Amaro basalts is isotopically distinct from that contributing to melt generation in central Ethiopian and Afar. This, combined with Early Tertiary plate reconstructions and similarities with Kenyan basalts farther south, lends credence to derivation of these melts from the Kenyan plume rather than the Afar mantle plume. The break in magmatism between 35 and 19 Ma is consistent with the northward movement away from the Kenya plume predicted from plate tectonic reconstructions. In this model the Getra-Kele magmatism is a response to heating of carbonatitically metasomatised lithosphere by the Afar mantle plume beneath southern Ethiopia at this time.

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