Instantaneous 3D tomography-based convection beneath the Rungwe Volcanic Province, East Africa: implications for melt generation


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Oxford University Press


Within the Western Branch of the East African Rift (EAR), volcanism is highly localized, which is distinct from the voluminous magmatism seen throughout the Eastern Branch of the EAR. A possible mechanism for the source of melt beneath the EAR is decompression melting in response to lithospheric stretching. However, the presence of pre-rift magmatism in both branches of the EAR suggest an important role of plume-lithosphere interactions, which validates the presence of voluminous magmatism in the Eastern Branch, but not the localized magmatism in the Western Branch. We hypothesize that the interaction of a thermally heterogeneous asthenosphere (plume material) with the base of the lithosphere enables localization of deep melt sources beneath the Western Branch where there are sharp variations in lithospheric thickness. To test our hypothesis, we investigate sublithospheric mantle flow beneath the Rungwe Volcanic Province (RVP), which is the southernmost volcanic center in the Western Branch. We use seismically constrained lithospheric thickness and sublithospheric mantle structure to develop an instantaneous 3D thermomechanical model of tomography-based convection (TBC) with melt generation beneath the RVP using ASPECT. Shear wave velocity anomalies suggest excess temperatures reach ∼250 K beneath the RVP. We use the excess temperatures to constrain parameters for melt generation beneath the RVP and find that melt generation occurs at a maximum depth of ∼140 km. The TBC models reveal mantle flow patterns not evident in lithospheric modulated convection (LMC) that do not incorporate upper mantle constraints. The LMC model indicates lateral mantle flow at the base of the lithosphere over a longer interval than the TBC model, which suggests that mantle tractions from LMC might be overestimated. The TBC model provides higher melt fractions with a slightly displaced melting region when compared to LMC models. Our results suggest that upwellings from a thermally heterogeneous asthenosphere distribute and localize deep melt sources beneath the Western Branch in locations where there are sharp variations in lithospheric thickness. Even in the presence of a uniform lithospheric thickness in our TBC models, we still find a characteristic upwelling and melt localization beneath the RVP, which suggest that sublithospheric heterogeneities exert a dominant control on upper mantle flow and melt localization than lithospheric thickness variations. Our TBC models demonstrate the need to incorporate upper mantle constraints in mantle convection models and have global implications in that small-scale convection models without upper mantle constraints should be interpreted with caution.



Planetary interiors, Africa, Numerical modelling, Dynamics: convection currents and mantle plumes, Magma genesis and partial melting