Transformation of continental lithospheric mantle beneath the East African Rift: constraints from platinum-group elements and Re–Os isotopes in mantle xenoliths from Ethiopia

  • Melesse AlemayehuEmail author
  • Feng Guo
  • Sonja Aulbach
Original Paper


The behavior of sub-continental lithospheric mantle (SCLM) in extensional settings, up to successful rifting, plays an important role in geodynamics and in the global carbon cycle, yet the underlying processes and rates of lithosphere destruction remain poorly constrained. We determined platinum-group element (PGE: Os, Ir, Ru, Pt, and Pd) abundances and Re–Os-isotope systematics for well-characterized mantle xenoliths hosted in Cenozoic basalts from the northwestern plateau (Gundeweyn area) and southern rift zone (Dillo and Megado areas) of Ethiopia to provide new insights on the nature and timing of processes leading to the formation and transformation of the off-cratonic lithospheric mantle beneath the East Africa rift system (EARS). The whole-rock PGE concentrations are highly variable, with total PGE abundances ranging from 6.6 to 12.6 ppb for Gundeweyn, 11.5 to 23.3 ppb for Dillo, and 9.9 to 19.4 ppb for Megado mantle xenoliths. The 187Os/188Os ratios of the whole-rock mantle xenoliths vary from 0.1180 to 0.1287 for Gundeweyn, 0.1238 to 0.1410 for Dillo and 0.1165 to 0.1277 for Megado, compared to 0.130 for the Afar plume and ≥ 0.14 for the Kenya plume, with Re depletion ages up to 1.45 Ga for Gundeweyn, 0.64 Ga for Dillo, and 1.65 Ga for Megado mantle xenoliths. The regional differences between refertilizing agents recorded in mantle xenoliths from the plateau area and the rift systems reflect distinct tectonomagmatic settings: (1) low PGE abundances, with some retention of low 187Os/188Os in Gundeweyn peridotites, are ascribed to scavenging by early small-volume oxidizing melts, generated in the convecting mantle ahead of the arrival of the Afar plume. (2) Percolation of late-stage silicate/basaltic melts, associated with the arrival of hot mantle plume and lithosphere thinning in the rift setting, locally led to refertilization and sulfide precipitation and partial replenishment of the PGE (Dillo), with convecting mantle-like 187Os/188Os. Local enclaves of older, cryptically metasomatised mantle with unradiogenic Os (Megado) attest to the heterogeneous nature of melt–peridotite interaction at this stage (pervasive vs. focused melt flow). Highly depleted abundances of the compatible PGE are characteristic of SCLM affected by incipient rifting and percolation of oxidizing melts, here associated with the Afar and Kenya plume beneath the East Africa rift, and may be precursors to advanced degrees of lithosphere destruction/transformation.


Ethiopia Mantle xenoliths Refertilization PGE Re–Os isotope 



Melesse Alemayehu very gratefully acknowledges the grant obtained from the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences (GIGCAS) for postdoctoral fellowship (Grant 207078). We would like to thank Jie Li and Yali Sun for their assistance in PGE and Re–Os-isotope analysis using LA–ICP–MS and TIMS, respectively. Miss He is also highly appreciated for the help in preparation of samples in clean laboratory works for PGE and Re–Os-isotope determination. Wu Yangming, Wang Guoqing, Zhang Xiaobing, and Zhang Bo are thanked for their kind assistance for managing all document cases of the first author. The authors also extend their sincere thanks to the Geological Survey of Ethiopia for providing materials related to the study area. Adama Science and Technology University and Arba Minch University of Applied Geology department are also thanked for providing logistics, material support and fieldwork transportation. The manuscript was greatly improved by highly constructive and detailed reviews by Laurie Reisberg and Richard Walker, as well as editorial guidance from Daniela Rubatto, to all of whom we are sincerely grateful. This research was financially supported by the National Science Foundation of China to Feng Guo (Grant 41525006). This is contribution No. IS-2693 from GIGCAS. 


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Isotope GeochemistryGuangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.School of Applied Natural Science, Department of Applied GeologyAdama Science and Technology UniversityAdamaEthiopia
  3. 3.Goethe Universität, Institut für GeowissenschaftenFrankfurt am MainGermany

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