Investigating volcano tectonic interactions in the Natron Rift of the East African Rift System

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Virginia Tech

Continental rifting, like other plate tectonic processes, plays a large role in shaping the Earth's crust. Active rift zones evolve from repeated tectonic and magmatic events including volcanic activity. Through investigations of currently and previously active rifts, scientists have discovered considerable interactions between these tectonic and magmatic processes during a rift's evolution; however questions remain about these interactions especially in youthful stages of rifts. We investigate an early phase magma-rich section of the East African Rift System (EARS), named the Eastern Branch to assess volcano-tectonic interactions. The Eastern Branch of the EARS consists of volcanically rich rifts that are actively spreading the Nubian Plate, Somalian plates, and Victoria block at different evolutionary stages making it an ideal study area for volcano-tectonic interactions. Our initial investigation of active volcano-tectonic interactions centered on a rifting event that occurred between 2007-2008 in the Natron Rift, a rift segment in the southern Eastern Branch located in Northern Tanzania. This rifting event contained multiple occurrences of tectonic, magmatic, and volcanic activity in close proximity. We examine the stress transferred from these events to the Natron Fault, which is the major border fault in the area, with analytical modeling using the USGS program Coulomb 3.4. We processed Global Positioning System (GPS) data that recorded slip on the major border fault in the region in early January 2008 and test which events could generate large enough stress changes to trigger the observed slip using a previously defined threshold of 0.1 MPa. These initial models were created using simplified model parameters, such as an elastic homogeneous half-space, and find that 1) magmatically induced stress perturbations have the potential to trigger fault slip on rift border faults, 2) magmatic events have the potential to trigger strike‐slip motions on a rift border fault, and 3) the proximity of magmatic activity may affect occurrences of slip on adjacent border faults. We then further investigate volcano-tectonic interactions in the Natron Rift by testing using numerical modeling with the CIG finite element code PyLith. We systematically test how adding topography, heterogeneous materials, and various reservoir volumes to a deflating 3 km deep magma reservoir system at the active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai can affect stress transfer to the adjacent Natron Fault. We compare eight models with variations in topography, material properties, and reservoir volumes to calculate the percent differences between the models; to test their effects on the stress change results. We find that topography plays the largest role with the effect increasing with reservoir size. Finally, we seek to improve the capability of investigating volcano-tectonic interactions in the Natron Rift at faster time- scales by improving Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning data (latitude, longitude, and height) collection and distribution capabilities. In the final part of this work, we describe a new Python-based data broker application, GNSS2CHORDS, that can stream real-time centimeter precision displacement data distributed by UNAVCO real-time GNSS data services to an online EarthCube cybertool called CHORDS. GNSS2CHORDS is applied to the TZVOLCANO GNSS network that monitors Ol Doinyo Lengai in the Natron Rift and its interactions with the adjacent rift border fault, the Natron Fault. This new tool provides a mechanism for assessing volcano-tectonic interactions in real-time. In summary, this work provides a new avenue for understanding volcano-tectonic interactions at unprecedented, 1-second time-scales, demonstrates slip can be triggered by small stress changes from magmatic events during early phase rifting, and provides insights into the key role of volcanic topography during volcano-tectonic interactions.

Geodesy, volcanoes, rifting