Manda-Hararo_rift_in_Afar_Africa
Almost 35 miles long Manda Hararo Rift in Afar (Image credit : University of Rochester)

Till date we used to know that there are five oceans allover the world, viz. Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Arctic Ocean, and Antarctic Ocean. But maybe in future, as the geologists presume, a new ocean basin is being formed due to the very slow peeling of the African continent.

Approximately five to ten million years later, the map of the world would be quite different than that of the today's. The tectonic plates underneath the African continent is splitting very slowly, which chronologically might cleave the continent into two divisions, and thus can drive to the emergence of a new ocean.

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Where does the staving locate?

Underneath the Afar Regional State (one of the nine regional states of Ethiopia, commonly known as Region 2), three tectonic plates. e.g., Somali, Nubian, and Arabian tectonic plate, are gradually drifting away from each other. Though it seems to be very slow in human time scale, rather it is happening quite faster according to the geological time scale.


Findings

Scientists have found that a new oceanic crust is onset to develop in this location of juncture of the said three tectonic plates. They found that the newly forming crust is clearly unique in its formation than the continental crust of Africa, and includes all the characteristics (e.g., density, composition, etc.) of an oceanic crust. The most prominent evidence is a 35 miles long crack in the hot and arid stretch of Ethiopia's Afar region, that was opened up in 2005.

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Giant crack in east Africa (Image credit : NBC News)

The technological advancement is helping the geologists a lot to find out and better understand what is actually going on beneath the continent, as well as it's allowing the geologists to study the origination of the new ocean in such an inimitable geological area of the Earth. This is unique because this is the only place of the world where a continental rift is likely to become an oceanic rift.

This can be act as an ideal opportunity for the scientists or geologists to further research about the splitting process of tectonic plates . They are speculating that the said three tectonic plates likely to rip apart from each other at a rate of a few millimetres per year. But, though it is known so well that the tectonic plates allover the world are in motion at a very slow pace, it is still not quite clear to the geologists that what is the factor behind the splitting of these particular three tectonic pates.

The recently developed theory about it assumes that, the main reason behind this tectonic break might be due to the upward flow of a massive plume of melted rock from upper mantle, right at the said location beneath Ethiopia's Afar region. The scientists are using the data obtained by Global Positioning System (GPS) to figure out the rate of movement of the tectonic plates at the location under investigation.

The Arabian tectonic plate is gradually drifting away from Africa since almost 30 million years, which leads to the development of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. But, as mentioned previously, the recent study reveals that the Somali tectonic plate is also drifting away from the Nubian tectonic plate.

But this tectonic movement is not uniform at all. Each tectonic plates are stretching away from one other at different pace. According to the researchers, the Arabian tectonic plate is drifting away from  Africa quite faster than the two other tectonic plates. It is having a speed of almost 1 inch per year. Whereas the Somali plate and the Nubian plate are moving away at a pace of around 0.2 inch per year.

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