Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Geology (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


James R Wood


New volumetric and mass flux estimates have been calculated for the Kenya Rift. Spatial and temporal histories for volcanic eruptions, lacustrine deposition, and hominin fossil sites are presented, aided by the compilation of a new digital geologic map. Distribution of volcanism over time indicates several periods of southward expansion followed by relative positional stasis. Volcanism occurs throughout the activated rift length, with no obvious abandonment as the rift system migrated. The main exception is a period of volcanic concentration around 10 Ma, when activity was constrained within 2° of the equator.

Volumes derived from seismic data indicate a total volume of c. 310,000 km3 (2.47 x 1010 kg/yr ), which is significantly more than the map-derived volumes found here or published previously. Map-based estimates are likely affected by a bias against recognizing small volume events in the older record. Such events are, however, the main driver of erupted volume over the last 5 Ma. A technique developed here to counter this bias results in convergence of the two volume estimation techniques.

Relative erupted composition over time is variable. Overall, the erupted material has a mafic to silicic ratio of 0.9:1. Basalts are distinctly more common in the Turkana region, which previously experienced Mesozoic rifting. Despite the near equal ratio of mafic to silicic products, the Kenya Rift otherwise fits the definition of a SLIP. It is proposed that the compositions would better fit the published definition if the Turkana region was not twice-rifted.

Lacustrine sedimentation post-dates initial volcanism by about 5 million years, and follows the same volcanic trends, showing south and eastward migration over time. This sedimentation delay is likely related to timing of fault displacements.

Evidence of hominin habitation is distinctly abundant in the northern and southern sections of the Kenya Rift, but there is an observed gap in the equatorial rift between 4 and 0.5 million years ago. After 0.5 Ma, sites appear to progress towards the equator. The pattern and timing of hominid site distributions suggests that the equatorial gap in habitation may be the result of active volcanic avoidance.

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