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Knickpoint morphotectonics of the Middle Shire River basin: Implications for the evolution of rift interaction zones

Dulanya, Zuze, Gallen, Sean F., Kolawole, Folarin, Williams, Jack N., Wedmore, Luke N. J., Biggs, Juliet and Fagereng, Åke ORCID: 2022. Knickpoint morphotectonics of the Middle Shire River basin: Implications for the evolution of rift interaction zones. Basin Research 34 (6) , pp. 1839-1858. 10.1111/bre.12687

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Tectonic and paleo-environmental reconstructions of rift evolution typically rely on the interpretation of sedimentary sequences, but this is rarely possible in early-stage rifts where sediment volumes are low. To overcome this challenge, we use geomorphology to investigate landscape evolution and the role of different forcing mechanisms during basin development. Here, we focus on the humid Middle Shire River basin, located within the zone of progressive interaction and linkage between the southern Malawi Rift and Shire Rift Zone, East Africa. We used a digital elevation model to map knickpoints and knickpoint morphologies in the Middle Shire River basin and examined the relationships with pre-rift and syn-rift structures within the rift interaction zone. The main axial stream, Shire River, descends steeply, 372 m over a 50 km distance, across exposed metamorphic basement along the rift floor, exhibiting a strongly disequilibrated longitudinal elevation profile with both ‘mobile’ and ‘fixed’ knickpoints. In particular, we identify two clusters of mobile knickpoints, which we interpret as associated with baselevel fall events at the downstream end of the exposed basement that triggered knickpoint migration through the fluvial network since at least the Mid. Pleistocene. We infer that after the integration of the axial stream across the Middle Shire Basin, the knickpoints migrate upstream in response to fault-related subsidence in the Shire Rift Zone. Conversely, the fixed knickpoints are interpreted to reflect local differential bedrock erodibility at lithologic contacts or basement-hosted fault scarps along the basin floor. The results suggest that Middle Shire basin opening, associated with rift linkage, is likely a recent event (at least Mid. Pleistocene) relative to the Late Oligocene activation of Cenozoic rifting in the East African Rift's Western Branch. These findings support the hypothesis that the Western Branch developed from the gradual propagation, linkage and coalescence of initially nucleated distinct rift basins.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 0950-091X
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 20 September 2022
Date of Acceptance: 11 June 2022
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2023 10:48

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