Controls on Quaternary geochemical and mineralogical variability in the Koora Basin and South Kenya Rift

R. Bernhart Owen, Nathan Rabideaux, Jordon Bright, Carolina Rosca, Robin W. Renaut, Richard Potts, Anna K. Behrensmeyer, Alan L. Deino, Andrew S. Cohen, Veronica Muiruri, René Dommain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The South Kenya Rift is comprised of a series of N-S-oriented grabens with sediments that preserve an approximate one-million-year environmental history that reflects the interplay of climate, tectonism and volcanism. This study attempts to disentangle the relative roles of these major controls by comparing the geochemical records preserved in three sedimentary basins. The study focuses on the Koora Basin using bulk geochemical data in a 139-m-long core. This record is then compared with geochemical data and environmental histories from a 196-m-long core at Magadi and outcrops in the Olorgesailie Basin. Four climatic phases (1000–850; 850–470; 470–400; 400–0 ka) are recognised at Koora, which can also be distinguished in the Magadi and Olorgesailie Basins. However, inter-basin contrasts also suggest that additional, non-climatic factors influenced these geochemical histories, particularly during four intervals. These include 1) the Magadi Transition (MT; ∼770–700 ka), 2) the Magadi Tectonic Event (MTE; ∼540 ka), 3) the Koora Instability Period (KIP; ∼325–180 ka), and 4) the Trona Precipitation Period (TPP; ∼105–0 ka). Prior to the MT, Zr/TiO2, La/Lu, Mo, As, V and Na/Ca in Magadi and Koora cores were similar but afterwards diverged. Major reductions in transition metals at Magadi during the MTE reflect tectonically-induced cross-rift drainage diversion. This contrasts with the Koora and Olorgesailie basins where these metals were constant from ∼1000 to 300 ka. The KIP represents a significant increase in volcanic inputs to the Koora Basin and increased geochemical variability. Bromine (Br), which reflects peralkaline volcanic activity and/or evaporative concentration, is elevated during the KIP at Koora but is below detection limits in the rest of the Koora core. Br in the Magadi core does not correlate with that in the Koora record, suggesting contrasting accumulation processes. The TPP represents a phase of trona precipitation at Magadi but not at Koora. This difference partly reflects increased magmatic CO2 rising along faults in the Magadi basin during a period of increasing aridity. Rare-earth element patterns indicate a major change at Magadi with many anomalies after about 325 ka to the present, caused by the development of hypersaline waters, which did not occur at Koora or Olorgesailie. The geochemical data from the three basins help to partially separate climatic controls from those related to volcanism, tectonism and local geomorphology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111986
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2024


  • Climate
  • Geochemistry
  • Mineralogy
  • Palaeolimnology
  • Quaternary
  • Volcano-tectonic controls

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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