Effective elastic thickness of Africa and its relationship to other proxies for lithospheric structure and surface tectonics

M. Pérez-Gussinyé*, M. Metois, M. Fernández, J. Vergés, J. Fullea, A. R. Lowry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Citations (Scopus)


Detailed information on lateral variations in lithospheric properties can aid in understanding how surface deformation relates to deep Earth processes. The effective elastic thickness, Te, of the lithosphere is a proxy for lithospheric strength. Here, we present a new Te map of the African lithosphere estimated from coherence analysis of topography and Bouguer anomaly data. The latter data set derives from the EGM 2008 model, the highest resolution gravity database over Africa, enabling a significant improvement in lateral resolution of Te. The methodology used for Te estimation improves upon earlier approaches by optimally combining estimates from several different window sizes and correcting for an estimation bias term. Our analysis finds that Te is high, ~ 100 km, in the West African, Congo, Kalahari and Tanzania cratons. Of these, the Kalahari exhibits the lowest Te. Based in part on published seismic and mineral physics constraints, we suggest this may reflect modification of Kalahari lithosphere by anomalously hot asthenospheric mantle. Similarly, the Tanzania craton exhibits relatively lower Te east of Lake Victoria, where a centre of seismic radial anisotropy beneath the craton has been located and identified with a plume head, thus suggesting that here too, low Te reflects modification of cratonic lithosphere by an underlying hot mantle. The lowest Te in Africa occurs in the Afar and Main Ethiopian rifts, where lithospheric extension is maximum. In the western Ethiopian plateau a local Te minimum coincides with published images of a low P and S seismic velocity anomaly extending to ~ 400 km depth. Finally, the Darfur, Tibesti, Hoggar and Cameroon line volcanic provinces are characterised by low Te and no deep-seated seismic anomalies in the mantle. Corridors of relatively low Te connect these volcanic provinces to the local Te minima within the western Ethiopian plateau. We interpret the low Te to indicate thinner lithosphere within the corridors than in the surrounding cratons. We speculate that these corridors may provide potential conduits for hot asthenospheric material to flow from the western Ethiopian plateau to the volcanic provinces of central and western Africa. Crown

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-167
Number of pages16
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • effective elastic thickness
  • lithospheric structure of Africa
  • tectonism and mantle processes


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