Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Research Article

Magmatism of the Kenya Rift Valley: a review

Ray Macdonalda1

a1 Environmental Sciences Department, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YQ, U.K.


Tertiary–Recent magmatism in the Kenya Rift Valley was initiated c. 35 Ma, in the northern part of Kenya. Initiation of magmatism then migrated southwards, reaching northern Tanzania by 5–8 Ma. This progression was accompanied by a change in the nature of the lithosphere, from rocks of the Panafrican Mozambique mobile belt through reworked craton margin to rigid, Archaean craton. Magma volumes and the geochemistry of mafic volcanic rocks indicate that magmatism has resulted from the interaction with the lithosphere of melts and/or fluids from one or more mantle plumes. Whilst the plume(s) may have been characterised by an ocean island basalt-type component, the chemical signature of this component has everywhere been heavily overprinted by heterogeneous lithospheric mantle. Primary mafic melts have fractionated over a wide range of crustal pressures to generate suites resulting in trachytic (silica-saturated and-undersaturated) and phonolitic residua. Various Neogene trachytic and phonolitic flood sequences may alternatively have resulted from volatile-induced partial melting of underplated mafic rocks. High-level partial melting has generated peralkaline rhyolites in the south–central rift. Kenyan magmatism may, at some future stage, show an increasing plume signature, perhaps associated ultimately with continental break-up.

(Received July 09 2002)

(Accepted December 12 2002)


  • Plume-Lithosphere interactions