Collaborative Research: Plate Tectonic and Geochemical Evolution of Young Walvis Ridge and Implications for African Plate Motion Modeling

Lead PI: Dr. Cornelia Class

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

September 2011 - August 2016
Africa ; Walvis Ridge
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The cause of the bifurcating tracks of seamounts and seafloor swells in the Walvis Ridge area in the South Atlantic just off South Africa has been a longstanding enigma in Marine Geology and in our understanding of hotspots and the plate tectonic evolution of Africa. This project will go to sea to dredge and analyze rocks from the part of the seafloor to the west of the Walvis Ridge and examine changes from hotspot to diffuse volcanism. The present location of the Walvis hotspot and the reason for its waning volcanic activity over the last 60 Myr will also be determined. Argon trapped in minerals in the collected seafloor volcanic rocks will be used to determine the age progression of the volcano tracks. Rock, major and trace element geochemistry and isotopes will be used to see if the younger rocks in the bifurcated tracks can be linked to the older Walvis Ridge. Multibeam bathymetric mapping and a map of seafloor magnetics will also be generated to examine structural trends and plate tectonic motions of this part of the ocean floor. Broader impacts of the work include international collaboration with a complementary German effort that is studying the older part of the Walvis Ridge, K-12 teacher and graduate and undergraduate student training, and support of a PI whose gender is under-represented in the sciences.

OUTCOMES: Numerous samples suitable for geochemical analysis were collected, PI Cass gained enough experience on the cruise to serve as chief scientist in the future, a website was created for the cruise and to show basic information to a broad audience.