Researchers say a 56-kilometer-long crack in the Ethiopian desert is likely to become a new ocean. The crack, which in some places reaches the maximum width of six meters, opened in 2005 and, at the time, some geologists already believed that it could give rise to a new ocean – although this was a controversial point of view.
An article published in the journal “Geophysical Research Letters”, which involves an international team of scientists, including African, Arab, and North American researchers, reveals that the processes behind the crack’s appearance are almost identical to what goes on in the background oceans, yet another indicator that the future of the region could be filling up with water.
Using the 2005 seismic data, scientists reconstructed the event to show that the crack reached 56 kilometers in just a few days. The Dabbahu volcano, located at the northern end of the rift, first erupted and then magma rose through the middle of the rift and began to open it in both directions. As these underground eruptions continue, the rift will continue to widen – and in about 10 million years it will create a very different Africa, according to scientists.
“This fissure is the beginning of the opening of a new ocean that, in a few million years, will form between West Africa and a new giant island, which will move towards the Indian Ocean”, explains Dereje Ayalew, a geologist from Addis Ababa University. “No one, until now, has had a chance to study the birth of a new ocean. We know those who are already trained, but we have never been able to observe one that was in its primordial phase ”.
“We know that underwater mountain ranges are created by a similar intrusion of magma into a crack, but we never knew that a huge fraction of the mountain range could suddenly open up, like this one,” explained Cindy Ebinger, an American professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and co-author of the study.
The results of the investigation reveal that the highly active volcanic areas along the edges of the oceanic tectonic plates can suddenly crack into large sections, contradicting the main theory in this regard that held that this process would be gradual. This discovery further indicates that these major sudden events on land represent a very serious danger to the populations living in the regions around the rift than from the various minor events.
“The aim of this study is to find out if what is happening in Ethiopia is similar to what is happening at the bottom of the ocean, where it is almost impossible for us to go,” says Ebinger. “We knew that if we could establish this, Ethiopia would essentially be a unique and excellent laboratory for ocean strands. Because of the unprecedented cross-border collaboration behind this research, we now know that the answer is yes, [the process that is happening in Africa] is analogous [to the bottom of the oceans] ”.