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Keywords:

  • Archean craton;
  • Tanzania;
  • surface waves;
  • low-velocity zone

[1] The Archean Tanzanian craton, nestled between the eastern and western branches of the East African Rift, presents a unique opportunity to study the interaction of active rifting with stable cratonic lithosphere. The high density of Rayleigh wave paths recorded in a regional seismic array yields unusually precise determinations of phase velocity within the Tanzanian craton. Shear velocities in the cratonic lithosphere are higher than a global average to a depth of 150 ± 20 km. Beginning at 140 km, shear velocity decreases sharply, reaching a minimum of 4.20 ± 0.05 km/s at depths of 200–250 km. The base of the lithosphere, identified by the depth to the center of the maximum negative velocity gradient, is similar to that found beneath other Archean lithospheres. Where Cenozoic rifting crosscuts the southern corner of the craton, velocities up to 130 km depth are reduced, indicating recent disruption of the lithosphere. The anomalously low velocities beneath the Tanzanian craton indicate high temperatures and the presence of melt, consistent with the spreading of a mantle plume head beneath the craton. Tests for the possibility of a radial pattern of azimuthal anisotropy that may indicate outward flow from a plume show that a model with average anisotropy of 0.71 ± 0.17% centered SE of Lake Victoria fits the data significantly better than a uniform, single direction of anisotropy. Thus our results agree with the suggestion that an upper mantle plume, centered beneath the Tanzanian cratonic lithosphere, provides the buoyancy required for uplift of the East African Plateau.