Africa to split in two within ten million years

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Within 10 million years the Horn of Africa will fall away and a new ocean will form, says a team at the University of Leeds.

The scientists, who say their conclusion show that geology can be fast and furious, have created a 3D interactive movie based on their model of the Afar rift in Ethiopia. It shows how the African continent is cracking open both above and below ground. 
 
In this remote desert a 40-mile segment of plate boundary cracked open by as much as eight metres over ten days in 2005. The gap filled with 2.5 cubic kilometres of molten rock. 

Since then, the crack has been growing wider and longer with the latest eruptions taking place as recently as last month. The
scientists studying the region believe that a new ocean is slowly forming and will eventually split the African continent in two. 

"The process of ocean formation is normally hidden deep beneath the seas, but in Afar we have are able to walk across the region as the Earth's surface splits apart - it really is amazing.  

"We now have the opportunity to conduct all sorts of experiments in this unique natural laboratory, to further understand the processes involved in shaping the surface of the Earth. It is helping us to understand and mitigate natural hazards like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions," said Dr Tim Wright of the University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment.

"The activity in the last five years in Afar has been truly incredible - we have been witnessing the plates split apart in real time in front of our eyes. Our research has shown the importance of molten magma in the whole process - we have been able to track the magma from below the Earth's crust until it is intruded into cracks and solidifies into new crust, or is erupted at the surface."  

The 3D movie can be seen this week in London at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.