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Crustal and Sub-continental Lithospheric Mantle Decoupling Beneath the Malawi Rift

Njinju, Emmanuel Atem
We analyzed satellite gravity and aeromagnetic data using the two-dimensional (2D) power-density spectrum technique to investigate the lithospheric and thermal structure beneath the magma-starved Malawi Rift, which forms the southern extension of the Western Branch of the East African Rift System. We observed: (1) lack of consistent pattern of crustal thinning and elevated heat flow along the surface expression of the rift. Beneath the Rungwe Volcanic Province (RVP) in the north, the crustal thickness ranges between 40 and 45 km and varies between 35 and 40 km along the entire length of the rift. (2) shallow lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary (LAB) elevated to ~64 km beneath the entire length of the rift and deeper than 100 km beneath the surrounding Precambrian terranes reaching in places ~124 km. (3) localized zones of high heat flow (70-75 mWm-2) beneath the RVP, and the central and southern parts of the rift. The central and southern thermal anomalies are due to the presence of uranium deposits in the Karoo sedimentary rocks. We interpret the crustal thickness heterogeneity to have been inherited from pre-existing lithospheric stretching, while strain during the extension of the Malawi Rift is preferentially localized in the sub-continental lithospheric mantle (SCLM). Our interpretation is supported by 2D forward modeling of the gravity data showing uniform stretching of the SCLM by a factor of 1.5 to 1.8 beneath the entire length of the rift. Our results indicate decoupling of the crust from the SCLM during the early stages of the development of the Malawi Rift.