Changes in African topography driven by mantle convection

Robert Moucha, Alessandro M. Forte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations


The topography of the African continent is characterized by large-scale extensional features such as the East African Rift, widespread volcanic activity, and anomalously subsided basins and uplifted domes. These enigmatic surface features have long suggested that the African continent is shaped by significant dynamic forcing originating in the underlying mantle. Here we simulate mantle convection backwards in time to reconstruct the evolution of dynamic topography of Africa over the past 30 million years. We show that the current high topography of the East African Rift system is due to the southward propagation of a topographic swell that encompassed the western margin of Arabia and the Afar region before 30 million years ago. We suggest that this dominant swell formed in response to the upwelling of the African superplume and the relative northward motion of the African tectonic plate over it. We also find that the adjacent Congo Basin has gradually subsided over the same time period in response to convective drawdown in the mantle. We conclude that much of Africaĝ€™s recent geological history is driven by buoyancy forces in the mantle. Our findings have important implications for African volcanism, erosion, sediment transport and river-basin drainage patterns 4-6.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)707-712
Number of pages6
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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