Essentially they have been able to confirm that this recently opened fault is displaying the same signature as an oceanic rift. At least they can study it without going for a swim.
The African rift system appears unique inasmuch as it is the signature of an actual continent partially breaking apart over the equator. In the end this whole rift system is also as likely to simply reseal in a few millions of years. It certainly is unusual.
The main rift is the mid Atlantic ridge. There are smaller ones reflecting the breakup of Gondwanaland. These rifts form as the crust makes way for a rising region of very deep magma that slowly flows up and outward from the rift axis.
Giant Crack in
Africa Will Create a New Ocean
posted: 02 November 2009 05:23 pm ET
A 35-mile rift in the
The crack, 20 feet wide in spots, opened in 2005 and some geologists believed then that it would spawn a new ocean. But that view was controversial, and the rift had not been well studied.
A new study involving an international team of scientists and reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters finds the processes creating the rift are nearly identical to what goes on at the bottom of oceans, further indication a sea is in the region's future.
The same rift activity is slowly parting the Red Sea, too.
Using newly gathered seismic data from 2005, researchers reconstructed the event to show the rift tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. Dabbahu, a volcano at the northern end of the rift, erupted first, then magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began "unzipping" the rift in both directions, the researchers explained in a statement today.
"We know that seafloor ridges are created by a similar intrusion of magma into a rift, but we never knew that a huge length of the ridge could break open at once like this," said Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study.
The result shows that highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of in bits, as the leading theory held. And such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events, Ebinger said.
"The whole point of this study is to learn whether what is happening in
The African and Arabian plates meet in the remote Afar desert of Northern Ethiopia and have been spreading apart in a rifting process — at a speed of less than 1 inch per year — for the past 30 million years. This rifting formed the 186-mile Afar depression and the Red Sea. The thinking is that the
Atalay Ayele, professor at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, led the investigation, gathering seismic data with help from neighboring Eritrea and Ghebrebrhan Ogubazghi, professor at the Eritrea Institute of Technology, and from Yemen with the help of Jamal Sholan of the National Yemen Seismological Observatory Center.