Neotectonic Crustal Uplift on the Continents and its Possible Mechanisms. The Case of Southern Africa


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Abstract

According to a large volume of data an intensive crustal uplift began in the Oligocene over most of the continental areas after a long period of relative tectonic stability. This Neotectonic uplift formed most of the present positive topographic features on the continents, and its strong acceleration took place during the last several million years. In many regions the uplift was associated with magmatism. The main methods of studying the Neotectonic uplift are considered together with the data on the uplift of Southern Africa. In this area the uplift took place in the Early Miocene (up to 300 m) and in the Late Pliocene and Pleistocene (up to 900 m). It occurred without stretching or shortening of the crust. Rapid erosion of the lower part of mantle lithosphere by a plume material is proposed as a mechanism of the uplift. This material ascended from below and rapidly spread along the base of the lithosphere. Its spreading for ∼1000 km during a few million years is possible only under a low viscosity of normal asthenosphere (≤1019 Pa s) and a much lower viscosity of a plume material (≤2 × 1016 Pa s). As in Southern Africa, in most of the regions the Neotectonic uplift was associated with insignificant shortening or stretching of the crust. This indicates that in some regions a plume material ascended from below and rapidly spread along the base of the lithosphere and eroded the mantle lithosphere in vast areas beneath the continents. In regions with a hot asthenosphere a strong weakening of the mantle lithosphere which allows its erosion can be associated with a high temperature of the plume material. In regions where the asthenosphere is at moderate temperature weakening of the mantle lithosphere can result from infiltration of volatiles from the plume material.

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