We assessed the relative contribution of ridge-push forces to the stress state of the Nubia-Somalia plate system by comparing ridge-push forces with lithospheric strength in the oceanic part of the plate, based on estimates from plate cooling and rheological models. The ridge-push forces were derived from the thermal state of the oceanic lithosphere, seafloor depth, and crustal age data. The results of the comparison show that the magnitude of the ridge-push forces is less than the integrated strength of the oceanic part of the plate. This implies that the oceanic part of the plate is very little deformed; thus, the ridge-push forces may be compensated by significant strain rates outside the oceanic parts of the plate. We used an elastic finite element analysis of geoid gradients of the upper mantle to evaluate stresses associated with the gravitational potential energy of the surrounding ridges and show that these stresses may be transmitted through the oceanic part of the plate, with little modulation in magnitude, before reaching the continental regions. We therefore conclude that the present-day stress fields in continental Africa can be viewed as the product of the gravitational potential energy of the ridge ensemble surrounding the plate in conjunction with lateral variations in lithospheric structure within the continent regions.
- Received 21 January 2015.
- Revision received 1 May 2015.
- Accepted 21 May 2015.
- © 2015 Geological Society of America