Mantle structure beneath Africa and Arabia from adaptively parameterized P-wave tomography: Implications for the origin of Cenozoic Afro-Arabian tectonism
While the Cenozoic Afro-Arabian Rift System (AARS) has been the focus of numerous studies, it has long been questioned if low-velocity anomalies in the upper mantle beneath eastern Africa and western Arabia are connected, forming one large anomaly, and if any parts of the anomalous upper mantle structure extend into the lower mantle. To address these questions, we have developed a new image of P-wave velocity variations in the Afro-Arabian mantle using an adaptively parameterized tomography approach and an expanded dataset containing travel-times from earthquakes recorded on many new temporary and permanent seismic networks. Our model shows a laterally continuous, low-velocity region in the upper mantle beneath all of eastern Africa and western Arabia, extending to depths of ~ 500-700 km, as well as a lower mantle anomaly beneath southern Africa that rises from the core-mantle boundary to at least ~ 1100 km depth and possibly connects to the upper mantle anomaly across the transition zone. Geodynamic models which invoke one or more discrete plumes to explain the origin of the AARS are difficult to reconcile with the lateral and depth extent of the upper mantle low-velocity region, as are non-plume models invoking small-scale convection passively induced by lithospheric extension or by edge-flow around thick cratonic lithosphere. Instead, the low-velocity anomaly beneath the AARS can be explained by the African superplume model, where the anomalous upper mantle structure is a continuation of a large, thermo-chemical upwelling in the lower mantle beneath southern Africa. These findings provide further support for a geodynamic connection between processes in Earth's lower mantle and continental break-up within the AARS.