|A 500-metre-long crack opened up in just a few days in Afar, Ethiopia, in 2005 (Photo Credit: University of Rochester)|
It occurred in the course of a few days, in 2005 and the rift is still expanding.
According to recent reports, particularly those from the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the rift is steadily expanding and will allow a new ocean to form and separating East Africa from the rest of the continent.
"The ocean's formation is happening slowly, likely to take a few million years. It will stretch from the Afar depression (straddling Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti) down to Mozambique," professor Atalay Ayele, lead researcher at the Addis Ababa University explained.
The seismic movements observed in Ethiopia are very similar to the changes
normally caused by faults and fissures on the seafloor,
where the processes moving tectonic plates usually start
However, this time it is happening violently and very fast.
Dr. James Hammond, a seismologist from the University of Bristol, says that parts of the region are below sea level and the Indian Ocean is only cut off by about a 20-meter strip of land in Eritrea:
"Eventually this will drift apart.... The sea will flood in and will start to create this new ocean. It will pull apart, sink down deeper and deeper and eventually... parts of southern Ethiopia, Somalia will drift off, create a new island, and we'll have a smaller Africa and a very big island that floats out into the Indian Ocean."
As the researchers explained, after last known eruption of Dabbahu in 2005, a volcano located in the remote Afar desert of Ethiopia, magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began "unzipping" the rift in both directions.
The entire eastern part of the African continent has been affected by the strong forces. Both small and large cracks can be found. Photo Credit: Cindy Ebinger/University of Rochester
"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," says professor Cindy Ebinger of Department of Earth And Environmental Science, University of Rochester.
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