EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Geodynamic Drivers of the East African Rift System

Anne Glerum1, Sascha Brune1,2, and Walid Ben Mansour3
Anne Glerum et al.
  • 1GFZ Potsdam, 2.5 Geodynamical Modelling, Potsdam, Germany (
  • 2University of Potsdam, Institute of Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany
  • 3Washington University in St Louis, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, St. Louis, USA

The East African Rift System (EARS) is the largest active continental rift on Earth. Inherited lithospheric strength variations have played a large role in forming the system’s current geometry. The partly overlapping eastern and western EARS branches encompass the large Victoria continental microplate that rotates counter-clockwise with respect to Nubia, in striking contrast to its neighboring plates.

Both the forces driving rifting in the EARS as a whole and the rotation of Victoria in particular are debated. Whereas some studies largely ascribe the rifting to horizontal mantle tractions deriving from plume-induced flow patterns (e.g., Ghosh et al., 2013), or to more equal contributions of mantle tractions and gravitational potential energy (e.g., Kendall and Lithgow-Bertelloni, 2016), recent work by Rajaonarison et al. (2021) points to a dominant role for lithospheric buoyancy forces in the opening of the rift system. Similarly, other numerical modeling (Glerum et al., 2020) has shown that Victoria’s rotation can be induced through drag of the major plates along the edges of the microplate transmitted along stronger lithospheric zones, with weaker regions facilitating the rotation, without the need for plume-lithosphere interactions (e.g., Koptev et al., 2015; Calais et al., 2006).

With unprecedented data-driven, regional spherical geodynamic numerical models spanning the EARS and the upper 660 km of mantle, we aim to identify the individual contributions of lithosphere and mantle drivers of deformation in the EARS and of Victoria’s rotation. Observational data informs the model setup in terms of crustal and lithospheric thickness, sublithospheric mantle density structure and plate motions. Comparison to separate observations of the high-resolution model evolution of strain localization, melting conditions, horizontal stress directions, topography and horizontal plate motions allows us to identify the geodynamic drivers at play and quantify the contributions of large-scale upper mantle flow to the local deformation of the East African crust.


Calais et al. (2006). GSL Special Publications, 259(1), 9–22.

Ghosh et al. (2013). J. Geophys. Res. 118, 346–368.

Glerum et al. (2020). Nature Communications 11 (1), 2881.

Koptev et al. (2015). Nat. Geosci. 8, 388–392.

Rajaonarison et al. (2021). Geophys. Res. Letters, 48(6), 1–10.

How to cite: Glerum, A., Brune, S., and Ben Mansour, W.: Geodynamic Drivers of the East African Rift System, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-7155,, 2022.