Since most of Tadjoura-Asal rift system sits on dry land in the Afar depression near the triple junction between the Arabia, Somalia, and Nubia plates, it is an ideal natural laboratory for studying rifting processes. We analyze these processes in light of a time series of geodetic measurements from 1978 through 2003. The surveys used triangulation (1973), trilateration (1973, 1979, and 1981-1986), leveling (1973, 1979, 1984-1985, and 2000), and the Global Positioning System (GPS, in 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2003). A network of about 30 GPS sites covers the Republic of Djibouti. Additional points were also measured in Yemen and Ethiopia. Stations lying in the Danakil block have almost the same velocity as Arabian plate, indicating that opening near the southern tip of the Red Sea is almost totally accommodated in the Afar depression. Inside Djibouti, the Asal-Ghoubbet rift system accommodates 16 +/- 1 mm/yr of opening perpendicular to the rift axis and exhibits a pronounced asymmetry with essentially null deformation on its southwestern side and significant deformation on its northeastern side. This rate, slightly higher than the large-scale Arabia-Somalia motion (13 +/- 1 mm/yr), suggests transient variations associated with relaxation processes following the Asal-Ghoubbet seismovolcanic sequence of 1978. Inside the rift, the deformation pattern exhibits a clear two-dimensional pattern. Along the rift axis, the rate decreases to the northwest, suggesting propagation in the same direction. Perpendicular to the rift axis, the focus of the opening is clearly shifted to the northeast, relative to the topographic rift axis, in the "Petit Rift," a rift-in-rift structure, containing most of the active faults and the seismicity. Vertical motions, measured by differential leveling, show the same asymmetric pattern with a bulge of the northeastern shoulder. Although the inner floor of the rift is subsiding with respect to the shoulders, all sites within the rift system show uplift at rates varying from 0 to 10 mm/yr with respect to a far-field reference outside the rift.
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