Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Seismicity of the Earth 1900-2013 East African Rift

January 1, 2014

The East African Rift system (EARS) is a 3,000-km-long Cenozoic age continental rift extending from the Afar triple junction, between the horn of Africa and the Middle East, to western Mozambique. Sectors of active extension occur from the Indian Ocean, west to Botswana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It is the only rift system in the world that is active on a continent-wide scale, providing geologists with a view of how continental rifts develop over time into oceanic spreading centers like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Rifting in East Africa is not all coeval; volcanism and faulting have been an ongoing phenomenon on the continent since the Eocene (~45 Ma). The rifting began in northern East Africa, and led to the separation of the Nubia (Africa) and Arabia plates in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and in the Lake Turkana area at the Kenya-Ethiopia border. A Paleogene mantle superplume beneath East Africa caused extension within the Nubia plate, as well as a first order topographic high known as the African superswell which now includes most of the eastern and southern sectors of the Nubia plate. Widespread volcanism erupted onto much of the rising plateau in Ethiopia during the Eocene-Oligocene (45–29 Ma), with chains of volcanoes forming along the rift separating Africa and Arabia. Since the initiation of rifting in northeastern Africa, the system has propagated over 3,000 km to the south and southwest, and it experiences seismicity as a direct result of the extension and active magmatism.

Publication Year 2014
Title Seismicity of the Earth 1900-2013 East African Rift
DOI 10.3133/ofr20101083P
Authors Gavin P. Hayes, Eric S. Jones, Timothy J. Stadler, William D. Barnhart, Daniel E. McNamara, Harley M. Benz, Kevin P. Furlong, Antonio Villaseñor
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2010-1083
Index ID ofr20101083P
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center