The Paleozoic - Mesozoic Mekele Sedimentary Basin in Ethiopia: An example of an exhumed IntraCONtinental Sag (ICONS) basin


We investigated the evolution of the Mekele Sedimentary Basin (MSB) in northern Ethiopia using geologic field and gravity data. The depth to Moho and lithospheric structure beneath the basin was imaged using two-dimensional (2D) radially-averaged power spectral analysis, Lithoflex three-dimensional (3D) forward and inverse modeling, and 2D forward modeling of the Bouguer gravity anomalies. Previous studies proposed that the basin was formed as part of a multi-branched rift system related to the breakup of Gondwana. Our results show that the MSB: (1) is circular to elliptical in map view and saucer shaped in cross sectional view, (2) is filled with terrestrial and shallow marine sedimentary rocks, (3) does not significantly structurally control the sedimentation and the major faults are post-depositional, (4) is characterized by a concentric gravity minima, (5) is underlain by an unstretched crust (∼40 km thick) and thicker lithosphere (∼120 km thick). These features compare positively with a group of basins known as IntraCONtinental Sags (ICONS), especially those ICONS formed over accretionary orogenic terranes. Since the MSB is located above the Neoproterozoic accretionary orogenic terranes of the Arabian-Nubian Shield (ANS), we propose that the formation of the MSB to be related to cooling and thickening of a juvenile sub-continental lithospheric mantle beneath the ANS, which most probably provided negative buoyancy, and hence subsidence in the MSB, leading to its formation as an ICONS. The MSB could be used as an outcrop analog for information about the internal facies architecture of ICONS because it is completely exhumed due to tectonic uplift on the western flank of the Afar Depression.


Geography, Geology, and Planning

Document Type




Exhumation, IntraCONtinental Sag (ICONS), Lithospheric cooling and thickening, Mekele Sedimentary Basin, Negative buoyancy

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of African Earth Sciences