The stratigraphic evolution of the Lake Tanganyika Rift, East Africa: Facies distributions and paleo-environmental implications

Shaidu Nuru Shaban, Christopher A. Scholz, James D. Muirhead, Douglas A. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Active continental rifts are ideal sites for understanding the break-up of continents, and long-lived rift lake environments are known as important reservoirs for endemic communities and biodiversity. The sedimentary fill of the Lake Tanganyika Rift records a long history of continental extension and variable tropical climate, that is unparalleled in its duration and fidelity. Recently acquired, state-of-the-art 2D seismic reflection data, together with reprocessed legacy data, are used to evaluate the evolution and distribution of sedimentary facies over the rift lake. Using seismic stratigraphic analysis, we reconstruct past depositional environments and the paleogeography of the lake and assess how tectonic-driven subsidence and hydroclimate variability modified the lake basin. We identify six syn-rift seismic units that overly the acoustic basement and identify depositional units beneath the syn-rift sequence that suggest episodes of pre-rift sedimentation. Based upon the seismic facies analysis, the earliest seismic stratigraphic unit is interpreted as deposited in an early-stage rift system of low-relief, that was dominated by alluvial, fluvial and shallow lacustrine conditions. Subsequent units exhibit attributes of a lacustrine environment of much greater water depth, enhanced catchment relief and accommodation, consistent with a more mature rift. In Seismic units 2–5, we observe extensive deltaic deposits and deep-water fans, and locally canyons, channels, channel-levee complexes, turbidites, slumps and other mass flow deposits. In the latter part of its history, erosional surfaces and abundant lowstand delta facies are observed, indicating the rift experienced dramatic hydroclimate cycles. We assess the relative timing of key features of the rift, including the emergence of major structures and rift segment boundaries, development of major drainages and linkages to upstream rift lakes. The evolving sedimentary facies of the rift illustrate a shallow- to-deep progression of rift valley environments and the more limited littoral habitats that influenced the evolution of its unique endemic organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110474
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021


  • Accommodation zones
  • Extensional rift
  • Lacustrine deltas
  • Lacustrine deposit
  • Paleolimnology
  • Sequence stratigraphy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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