Orthogonal to oblique rifting: Effect of rift basin orientation in the evolution of the North basin, Malawi Rift, East Africa

Estellem Mortimer, D. A. Paton, C. A. Scholz, M. R. Strecker, P. Blisniuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


The East African Rift system has long been considered the best modern example of the initial stages of continental rifting. The Malawi Rift is characteristic of the western branch of the East African Rift system, composed of half-grabens of opposing asymmetry along its length. There are striking similarities between basins within the Malawi Rift, and others along the western branch. Each exhibits similar bathymetry, border-fault length, rift zone width and fault segment length. The North Basin of the Malawi Rift differs from others in the rift only in its orientation: trending NW-SE as opposed to N-S. Although there is general agreement as to the geometry of the Malawi Rift; debate as to the amount of strike-slip vs. dip-slip deformation and the influence of underlying Pan-African foliation remains. This study presents new data from a closely spaced shallow [2 s two-way travel time (TWT)] seismic reflection data set integrated with basin-scale deeper (6 s TWT) seismic reflection data that document the structural evolution of the border and intra-basin faults. These data reveal that the different trend of the North Basin, most likely to have been influenced by the underlying Pan-African foliation, has played an extremely important role in the structural style of basin evolution. The border-fault and intra-basin structures nucleated during extension that was initially orthogonal (ENE). During this time (>8.6 to ∼0.5-0.4 Ma) intra-basin faults synthetic to the west-dipping border-fault nucleated, whereas strain was localised on the segmented border-fault early on. A later rotation of extension orientation (to NW) led to these established faults orienting oblique to rifting. This generated an overall dextral strike-slip setting that led to the development of transfer faults adjacent to the border-fault, and the generation of flower structures and folds over the greater displacement intra-basin faults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-407
Number of pages15
JournalBasin Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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