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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Bulletin


Volume: 59 (1975)

Issue: 12. (December)

First Page: 2209

Last Page: 2265

Title: Continental Margin Off Western Africa: Angola to Sierra Leone

Author(s): K. O. Emery (2), Elazar Uchupi (2), Joseph Phillips (2), Carl Bowin (2), Jean Mascle (3)


About 30,750 line-km of geophysical traverses (seismic reflection and refraction, magnetics, and gravity) were made in the Gulf of Guinea and vicinity aboard R/V Atlantis II during 1972 and 1973 as part of the International Decade of Ocean Exploration program. These traverses, supplemented by about 50,000 line-km of previous ones by other ships, provide a basis for mapping and understanding the geologic structure, history, and origin of the region.

The deep indentation of the outline of western Africa is paralleled by a similar bend of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and by the prominent bulge of northeastern Brazil. These sharp bends are the result of left-lateral offsets by many transform faults in a belt of equatorial fracture zones. Some of the fracture zones continue eastward and intersect the entire length of the east-west coast of the Gulf of Guinea and penetrate the continent at the Benue trough or graben. The valleys of the fracture zones have been sites of sediment deposition, whereas the ridges have served as dams that force the sediment to move westward.

Where enormous quantities of sediment have been delivered to the ocean by the Niger-Benue Rivers, a large delta has deeply buried the irregular topography of the fracture zones. In this entire belt of fractured ocean floor the structure, physiography, and stratigraphy have been controlled by lateral movement, or translation, of the ocean floor with respect to the continent.

In contrast, the regions southeast and northwest of the belt of equatorial fractures have fewer large fracture zones, smoother topography, and simpler sediment wedges. These two regions owe their origin to simple divergence during sea-floor spreading, when new oceanic basement added at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge increased the distances between the African continent, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and the American continents. Deposition of sediments along the margins of the originally narrow Atlantic Ocean was dominated early by coarse-grained and largely nonmarine sediments. South of the Gulf of Guinea these deposits were followed by evaporites as products of restricted water circulation in a long narrow arm of the ocean. There was little flow of water across the equator because of the sliding-v lve nature of the region of translation between the two regions of divergence. As spreading continued, the ocean widened, and thick prisms of marine sediments were deposited on the continental margins. Large deltas in western Africa first began at the south, with the now submerged deltas of the Orange and the Congo Rivers being chiefly Mesozoic in age and having no present coastal projection. The Niger delta farther north is mostly Cenozoic in age.

Petroleum prospects appear to be far greater in the Niger delta and the region of divergence south of it than in the entire region west of the delta. The favorable continental margin contains thicker sediments, large ancient and modern deltas, and salt and mud diapirs.

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