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Name: Loh Chun Liang

ID: G03498
Assignment: East African Rift Valley (EARV) and its importance in petroleum industry.
1.0 Introduction
The East African Rift Valley (EARV) is an active continental rift zone in East Africa which began
developing 2225 million years ago. The EARV is a developing divergent tectonic plate
boundary of splitting the Africa Plate at the rate of 6-7 mm/year into two tectonic plates, Somali
Plate and Nubian Plate (Wood & Guth, 2008).
The EARV extends to the Malawi from the north
following two paths, the Red Sea from the West and
Gulf of Aden from the East (Figure 1). It consists of
two main branches, Eastern Rift Valley and much
less volcanic Western Rift Valley. The volcanically
active Eastern Rift Valley includes Main Ethiopian
Rift, running eastward from the Afar Triple Junction,
which continues south as the Kenya Rift Valley. The
less volcanic Western Rift Valley, which hosts the
African Great Lakes, includes the Albertine Rift, and
farther south, the valley of Lake Malawi (Ring, 2014;
Saemundsson, 2008; Wood & Guth, 2008).

Continental Rifting Process of EARV

The exact mechanism of rift formation is an on-going

debate. One of the popular concepts for EARV is the
formation a pair of thermal bulges in central Kenya
and the Afar region of north-central Ethiopia that
caused by elevated heat flow from asthenosphere,
causing the stretch and fracture of the outer brittle
crust into a series of normal faults, thinning the
brittle crust and form the classic horst and graben
structure of rift valleys (Figure 2). As soon in Figure
Figure 1: Map Portfolio of East Africa 2, undergoing normal faulting and horst and graben
formation increases the width taken up by the
Rift Valley (Rosendahl, 1987)
trapezoidal rules. This type structure of extension
features are often displayed in rift. According to Saemundsson (2008), the spreading slows down
from north to south from 2.6 cm/year in the Red Sea to about 1 cm/year in Afar to 0.7 cm/year
in the Ethiopian Rift and 0.5 mm/year combined in the Western and Eastern Rifts across the
Kenya Dome and gradually decreasing from there to the south.

Name: Loh Chun Liang

ID: G03498

Figure 2: Comparison of the "textbook" horst and garben formation and the actual rift terrain and
its topographic profile (Wood & Guth, 2008).
The bulges are initiated by mantle plumes under the continent heating the overlying crust and
causing it to expand and fracture. Ideally the dominant fractures created occur in a pattern
consisting of three fractures or fracture zones radiating from a point with an angular separation
of 120 degrees. The point from which the three branches radiate is called a triple junction and
is well illustrated in the Afar region of Ethiopia, where two branches are occupied by the Red
Sea and Gulf of Aden, and the third rift branch runs to the south through Ethiopia. The stretching
process associated with rift formation is often preceded by huge volcanic eruptions which flow
over large areas and are usually preserved/exposed on the flanks of the rift. These eruptions
are considered by some geologists to be flood basalts the lava is erupted along fractures and
runs over the land in sheets like water during a flood. Such eruptions can cover massive areas
of land and develop enormous thickness. If the stretching of the crust continues, it forms a
stretched zone of thinned crust consisting of a mix of basaltic and continental rocks which
eventually drops below sea level, as has happened in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Further
stretching leads to the formation of oceanic crust and the birth of a new ocean basin.

Name: Loh Chun Liang

ID: G03498
3.0 Geology of EARV
Volcanic and rifting episodes are known to occur in Djibouti and Ethiopia, involving magmatism
and widening of discrete volcanic systems. The last occurred in 1978 in Ardukoba and 2005 to
2008 in Dabbahu. Recurrence times are unknown and are controlled by the rifting process.
There is a close relationship between doming, rifting and alkaline volcanism. According to Baker,
Mohr, and Williams (1972), four magmatic episodes correlating with tectonic phases were
observed beginning in the Miocene. The first appearance of the development phases was:
1) Early to middle Miocene
- Early uplift
- Alkali basalts
- Nephelinites
2) Upper Miocene
- Doming of about 300 m
- Downwarping at future rift shoulders
- Fissure eruptions. More basalts and phonolites
- Off rift volcanoes of eastern Uganda
3) Pliocene
- Doming of about 1400 m
- Main rifting
- Graben faulting
- Trachytes in rift floor (Southern Kenya Rift)
- Basaltic volcanism
4) Quaternary
- Major graben faulting
- Caldera volcanoes in axial zone
- Basalt phonolite volcanism in off-rift volcanoes beginning in Upper Pliocene

Miocene volcanism and

faulting in Kenya

Lower to middle Pliocene

volcanism and faulting in

Upper pliocene and lower

pleistocene volcanism and
faulting in Kenya

Late Quarternary volcanism

and faulting in Kenya

Figure 3: Four magmatic episodes correlating with tectonic phases since Miocene
(Saemundsson, 2008)

Name: Loh Chun Liang

ID: G03498
This sequence represents a progression from incipient melting of the upper mantle associated
with early uplift, through extensive partial melting of the uppermost mantle and lower crust giving
rise to phonolites to pervasive partial melting of the lower crust due to lowering of the central rift
segment into the heated zone causing trachyte outpourings (Bailey, 1974).
The formation of rift fractures initiates magmatism. The first eruptive rocks in the cycle, seen in
Ethiopia and Kenya, were extensive alkali flood basalts generated from melts at depths of about
or greater than 35 km. More saturated basalts followed in the rifts generated at shallower depth.
A final stage with full scale separation of the continental blocks and tholeiitic magmatism forming
new oceanic crust has been reached in the Afar triangle.
The sequence of igneous rocks related to the rift development was controlled by the progressive
rise of geo-isotherms in the crust. The high temperature geothermal resources are closely
related to the volcanic centres. This bears relation to the crustal magma chambers which feed
their silicic volcanic production. Very often the prospects are at high ground elevations where
production may be difficult and sufficiently high pressures may not be possible. The fissure
swarms which extend from them are likely to be fed laterally. They are less likely as hosting a
significant geothermal resource. However, the concentrations of volcanic eruptions on the
swarms may indicate a resource.
4.0 Importance EARV in Petroleum Industry
The Eastern Rift of many volcanoes from Suswa up to Turkana is centered on a second hot spot
represented by the Kenya domal uplift, which is elliptical in plan and about 1000 km wide. It has
also three rift arms, two of them forming the main rift, the third (Kavirondo) subdued trending
west from the centre of the dome. To the north in the Lake Turkana area sedimentation
outweighs volcanic production. Prospecting for oil and gas in the sedimentary fill of the basin is
being undertaken there. The Western Rift of deep lakes and few volcanoes bends about the
eastern edge of the Kenya dome from Uganda to Tanzania continuing south to Malawi. The floor
of that rift is filled with sediments (which contain hydrocarbons) and lakes, elongate in shape,
occupying depressions up to 4.5 km deep (Tanganyika, lake depth over 1400 m) but volcanism
is subordinate although hosting Africas most active volcano in the Virunga mountains
(Saemundsson, 2008).
As the EARV progressed over the pass 40 million years, clastic sediments and episodes of
volcanic extrusions moved in and progressively infilled newly created basins. Deep in these
basins are thought to be significant reservoirs of oil but those basalts and other volcanic
extrusives seriously challenge and complicate seismic work (Chandler, n.d.). Hydrocarbon
exploration in the EARV had produced a very small discovery in eastern branch of the rift system

Name: Loh Chun Liang

ID: G03498
before 2006. Since 2006 there have been ten further discoveries in the western branch of the
system but the vast majority of other East African Rifts still remain undrilled.
Oil seeps and present day anoxic conditions in Lakes Tanganyika and Malawi are allowing the
formation of source rock. These are indications of the possibility of mature source rock
development beneath East African Rift Lakes. The Loperot and Albert Basins have proven
subsurface source rocks, while the Tanganyika and Malawi Basins have proven current source
rock deposition.
Most of the lakes lie within calm climatic zones that together with the protective topography of
the rift shoulders, allow minimal water circulation to occur, causing stratification of the water
column. Preservation of organic matter during early burial is required for the formation of a
kerogen rich rock so the depth of the lake floor must lie below the thermocline, thus within the
zone of anoxia where this can occur. The depths of individual lakes are controlled by the interplay
between tectonic subsidence and sediment supply.
(Lyons, Scholz, Buoniconti, & Martin, 2011) have proposed a sequence stratigraphic model for
Lake Malawi, which has been recreated and modified below to highlight the petroleum potential
within the EARS. This model states from the outset that the drainage of a rift basin into its
associated lake varies across each lake due to localised structural features so impacting how
sediments are distributed and deposited within it. However, the stratigraphic relationships seen
across each lake can be correlated into a sequence stratigraphic model for effective petroleum
system prediction.
5.0 Conclusion
As conclusion, EARV has a very large under explored portfolio within oil-prone, proven
petroleum systems and multi-billion barrel oil potential. It has a significant expansion potential
and there will world class oil exploration play in East Africa in the future.
6.0 References
Bailey, D. (1974). Continental rifting and alkaline magmatism. The alkaline rocks, 148-159.
Baker, B. H., Mohr, P. A., & Williams, L. A. J. (1972). Geology of the eastern rift system of
Africa. Geological Society of America Special Papers, 136, 1-68.
Chandler, G. (n.d.). Exploring the East African Rift System. Retrieved from
Lyons, R. P., Scholz, C. A., Buoniconti, M. R., & Martin, M. R. (2011). Late Quaternary
stratigraphic analysis of the Lake Malawi Rift, East Africa: an integration of drill-core and

Name: Loh Chun Liang

ID: G03498
seismic-reflection data. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 303(1),
Ring, U. (2014). The East African Rift System. Austrian J Earth Sci, 107(1), 132-146.
Rosendahl, B. R. (1987). Architecture of continental rifts with special reference to East Africa.
Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 15, 445.
Saemundsson, K. (2008). East African rift system. An overview. Short Course III, UNU-GTP,
Lake Naivasha, Kenya.
Wood, J., & Guth, A. (2008). East Africas Great Rift Valley: A Complex Rift System. Geology.
Sanders, C. C., (n.d.). Petroleum Systems in East African Rift Lakes: Past and Present