Thermal history of the Rio Muni (West Africa)–NE Brazil margins during continental breakup

Jonathan Turner, PF Green, SP Holford, SR Lawrence

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We document the thermal record of breakup of the conjugate Rio Muni (West Africa) and NE Brazil margins using apatite fission track analysis, vitrinite reflectance data and stratigraphic observations from both margins. These results permit determination of the timing of four cooling episodes, and the temperature of samples at the onset of each episode. All samples are interpreted to have experienced higher temperatures in the geological past due to i) elevated basal heatflow (palaeogeothermal gradient in Rio Muni-1 well decaying from 58 degrees C/km during the Mid Cretaceous to 21.5 degrees C/km in the Late Cenozoic) and ii) progressive exhumation from formerly greater burial depth. A well constrained history of changing palaeogeothermal gradient allows for much more precise quantification of the thickness of eroded section (exhumation) than if a constant heatflow is assumed. Cooling episodes identified from the palaeotemperature data at 110-95 Ma (both margins) and 85-70 Ma (Rio Muni only) coincide with major unconformities signifying, respectively, the cessation of rifting (breakup) and compressional shortening that affected the African continent following the establishment of post-rift sedimentation (drift). The interval between these separate unconformities is occupied by allochthonous rafts of shallow-water carbonates recording gravitational collapse of a marginal platform. The rift shoulder uplift that triggered this collapse was enhanced by local transpression associated with the obliquely divergent Ascension Fracture Zone, and thermal doming due to the coeval St Helena and Ascension Plumes. The data also reveal a c.45-35 Ma cooling episode, attributed to deep sea erosion at the onset of Eo-Oligocene ice growth, and a c.15-10 Ma episode interpreted as the record of Miocene exhumation of the West African continental margin related to continent-wide plume development. Integration of thermal history methods with traditional seismic- and stratigraphy-based observations yields a dynamic picture of kilometre-scale fluctuations in base level through the breakup and early drift phases of development of these margins. Major unconformities at ocean margins are likely to represent composite surfaces recording not only eustasy, but also regional plate margin-gene rated deformation, local 'intra-basinal' reorganization, and the amplifying effect of negative feedbacks between these processes. (c) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354–367
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date21 May 2008
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2008


  • West Africa
  • continental breakup
  • conjugate ocean margins
  • Brazil
  • vitrinite reflectance
  • exhumation
  • apatite fission track analysis
  • heatflow


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