Africa Is Slowly Splitting In Two – Eventually, A New Ocean Will Be Formed

Dylan Turck
Africa, the world’s second-largest continent is experiencing continental rifting and may split into two separate continents with a brand new ocean forming in between.
Blydes River Canyon, part of the East African Rift System. Photo: Arthur Hickinbotham | Unsplash
Blydes River Canyon, part of the East African Rift System. Photo: Arthur Hickinbotham | Unsplash

Researchers are studying a geological faultline that is appearing on the continent of Africa where the Somali Tectonic Plate is breaking apart from the African Tectonic Plate and taking a large piece of Africa with it.

A micro-tectonic plate in the eastern part of the continent is slowly separating from the mainland. Research suggests a new ocean will form between the two continents, sourcing water from the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The process is known as continental rifting. It involves the gradual movements of tectonic plates under the Earth’s surface, creating fissures that cause continents to split and separate.

The last known large-scale continental rift happened millions of years ago when South America split apart from Western Africa. Before this, almost all continents were combined to form a supercontinent called Gondwana.

The East African Rift System (EARS) spans over 1865 mi (3,000 km) through the countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, and extends down to Mozambique. The rifts formation is growing at a rate of 2.5 centimeters per year.

Over the next couple of million years, this rift will widen, and the African Plate will split into two smaller plates, the Nubian Plate, and the Somali Plate.

The Formation Of The East African Rift System

Aerial view of rock formations inside a rift valley basin. Photo: Joshua Kettle | Unsplash

Geologists believe that the EARS began forming around 25 million years ago, but it’s still in the early stages of its formation. The rift is about 62 mi (100 km) wide in some areas, and as it widens, it will create new coastlines, alter global ocean currents, and change weather patterns and climate in the region.

The formation of the new ocean and the separation of the continent will also have negative consequences. Millions of people living along the current African coastline will be displaced, and marine life that lives in the ecosystems will also be impacted.

The process of continental rifting is a continuous and fascinating phenomenon that showcases the dynamic nature of our planet. Therefore, scientists must study these geological changes in the Earth and monitor tectonic plates to prepare for the future.

Although the formation of a new continent may take millions of years, it is a reminder that the Earth is constantly changing, and we as a species must continually adapt and prepare for these changes.

Are There Any Other Rift Valleys In The World?

Continental ice shelf in Antarctica. Photo: Matt Palmer | Unsplash

There are four major rift valleys in the world, which include the East African Rift System and three others; the Baikal Rift Zone, the Rio Grande Rift, and the West Antarctic Rift System. In the future, these rifts will grow larger and eventually break off into their own continents.

The Baikal Rift Zone is in Southeastern Russia, where the valley extends for over 1200 mi (2000 km) along the border of Mongolia. In the middle of the rift valley, you’ll find Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world that holds over 20% of the world’s fresh water.

The Rio Grande Rift stretches from the state of Colorado, America, all the way to Chihuahua, Mexico. The rift valley system has four large basins that measure about 31 mi (50 km) across and is home to the Rio Grande River, the fourth longest river in America.

The West Antarctic Rift System is an accumulation of multiple rift basins nestled between the eastern and western Antarctic Tectonic Plates. The West Antarctic Rift formed due to a microplate that separated from the main tectonic plate in the late Cretaceous era.

The entirety of the West Antarctic Rift System has not fully been explored due to the hostile environment but it is thought to be about the same size as the Rio Grande Rift.


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