Sunday March 12, 2023
Africa is breaking up or “rifting” into two parts and a new ocean is being born, scientists have said.
As per a research published in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters, two major sections of the continent are peeling apart, which could eventually form a new ocean.
Let’s understand the reason behind the split and how long will it take for Africa to break up.
What is rifting?
According to Science Direct, rifting is the tearing apart of a “single tectonic plate into two or more tectonic plates separated by divergent plate boundaries”.
A lowland region called the rift valley erupts where Earth’s tectonic plates move apart, noted National Geographic. These rift valleys can occur on land as well as at the bottom of the ocean.
This phenomenon can be dated at least 138 million years back when South America and Africa were divided into different continents, says IFLScience report.
For the last 30 million years, the Arabian plate has been drifting away from Africa, a process that resulted in the creation of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, according to NBC News.
Why is Africa is splitting into two?
The splitting up of the continent is linked to East African Rift, a 56 kilometres or 35-mile-long crack that emerged in Ethiopia’s desert in 2005. This will set off the formation of a new sea, as per a report in Economic Times.
The seismic data present in the research shows that the creation of the rift was triggered by similar tectonic processes that are taking place at the bottom of the ocean.
The crack was discovered at the border of three tectonic plates – African Nubian, African Somali, and Arabian – that have already been separating for some time, the Economic Times report added.
Spanning over 3,000km, the East African Rift Valley lies from the Gulf of Aden in the north towards Zimbabwe in the south. As per The Conversation, it divides the African plate into two parts: the Somali and Nubian plates.
“This is the only place on Earth where you can study how a continental rift becomes an oceanic rift,” Christopher Moore, a doctorate student at the University of Leeds, said, according to Mashable.
As rifting occurs, material from “deep inside Earth moves to the surface and forms oceanic crust at the ridges”, as per NBC News.