Structure and evolution of the intracratonic Congo Basin

Crosby, A. G. and Fishwick, S. and White, N. J. (2010) Structure and evolution of the intracratonic Congo Basin. G3 Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, 11. ISSN 1525-2027 DOI


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Surface wave tomography, heat flow, and crustal thickness measurements have demonstrated that the thickness of the continental lithosphere varies by at least a factor of 2. Since the thermal time constant of the lithosphere depends upon the square of its thickness, subsidence records of extensional sedimentary basins offer a potential way of extending these observations into the past. Here we examine the Congo basin, a large and iconic intracratonic sedimentary basin in Central Africa. This roughly circular basin covers an area in excess of 1.4 × 106 km2 with more than 5 km thickness of sedimentary rocks, the oldest parts of which are late Precambrian in age. First, we assess the thickness of the lithosphere. We have estimated its thickness across Africa using maps of shear wave velocity obtained by inversion of fundamental and higher-mode surface waveforms. The Congo Basin sits on 220 ± 30 km thick lithosphere and appears to be part of a southern core to the continent encompassing both Archean cratons and Proterozoic mobile belts. This thickness is consistent with published estimates from kimberlites. Reappraisal of legacy seismic reflection images demonstrates that the sedimentary section is underlain by a Late Precambrian rift zone and that the basin is still subsiding today. Subsidence modeling of two deep wells is consistent with uniform extension and cooling of the lithosphere by a factor of 1.2 during latest Precambrian and Cambrian time; we argue that the exceptional 0.55 Ga history of the basin is a direct consequence of the lithospheric thermal time constant being a factor of 4 longer than normal. Today, the basin coincides with a long-wavelength −30 to −40 mGal gravity anomaly. We interpret this gravity anomaly as the surficial manifestation of 400–600 m of recent mantle convective drawdown in response to the onset of upwelling plumes around the flanks of the southern African continent. The alternative explanation, that it is the static manifestation of locally thick lithosphere, is inconsistent with global trends of mantle density depletion. Our interpretation is consistent with fast seismic velocities observed throughout the sublithospheric upper mantle underneath the basin and recent geodynamic modeling.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 2010AREP; IA60;
Subjects: 02 - Geodynamics, Geophysics and Tectonics
Divisions: 02 - Geodynamics, Geophysics and Tectonics
Journal or Publication Title: G3 Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems
Volume: 11
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Sarah Humbert
Date Deposited: 24 May 2010 14:00
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2013 09:57

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