Big crack in Ethiopia: beachfront property soon to be available

I’m sure we’ll see some emails from beachfront land speculators in Nigeria and Ethiopia soon.

On the serious side, University of Rochester researchers have found evidence that Earth, doing what it darn well pleases despite our protestations, is making a new ocean in the African desert.

Ethiopian_rift

click for very large image (2.4MB)

African Desert Rift Confirmed as New Ocean in the Making

Geologists Show that Seafloor Dynamics Are at Work in Splitting African Continent

In 2005, a gigantic, 35-mile-long rift broke open the desert ground in Ethiopia. At the time, some geologists believed the rift was the beginning of a new ocean as two parts of the African continent pulled apart, but the claim was controversial.

Now, scientists from several countries have confirmed that the volcanic processes at work beneath the Ethiopian rift are nearly identical to those at the bottom of the world’s oceans, and the rift is indeed likely the beginning of a new sea.

The new study, published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of little by little as has been predominantly believed. In addition, such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events, says Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study.

“This work is a breakthrough in our understanding of continental rifting leading to the creation of new ocean basins,” says Ken Macdonald, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and who is not affiliated with the research. “For the first time they demonstrate that activity on one rift segment can trigger a major episode of magma injection and associated deformation on a neighboring segment. Careful study of the 2005 mega-dike intrusion and its aftermath will continue to provide extraordinary opportunities for learning about continental rifts and mid-ocean ridges.”

“The whole point of this study is to learn whether what is happening in Ethiopia is like what is happening at the bottom of the ocean where it’s almost impossible for us to go,” says Ebinger. “We knew that if we could establish that, then Ethiopia would essentially be a unique and superb ocean-ridge laboratory for us. Because of the unprecedented cross-border collaboration behind this research, we now know that the answer is yes, it is analogous.”

Ethiopian_rift_GE

Click to view on Google Maps

 

Atalay Ayele, professor at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, led the investigation, painstakingly gathering seismic data surrounding the 2005 event that led to the giant rift opening more than 20 feet in width in just days. Along with the seismic information from Ethiopia, Ayele combined data from neighboring Eritrea with the help of 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. The map he drew of when and where earthquakes happened in the region fit tremendously well with the more detailed analyses Ebinger has conducted in more recent years.

Ayele’s reconstruction of events showed that the rift did not open in a series of small earthquakes over an extended period of time, but tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. A volcano called Dabbahu 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, says Ebinger.

Since the 2005 event, Ebinger and her colleagues have installed seismometers and measured 12 similar—though dramatically less intense—events.

“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 Ebinger. She explains that since the areas where the seafloor is spreading are almost always situated under miles of ocean, it’s nearly impossible to monitor more than a small section of the ridge at once so there’s no way for geologists to know how much of the ridge may break open and spread at any one time. “Seafloor ridges are made up of sections, each of which can be hundreds of miles long. Because of this study, we now know that each one of those segments can tear open in a just a few days.”

Ebinger and her colleagues are continuing to monitor the area in Ethiopia to learn more about how the magma system beneath the rift evolves as the rift continues to grow.

Additional authors of the study include Derek Keir, Tim Wright, and Graham Stuart, professors of earth and environment at the University of Leeds, U.K.; Roger Buck, professor at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, N.Y.; and Eric Jacques, professor at the Institute de Physique du Globe de Paris, France.

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108 thoughts on “Big crack in Ethiopia: beachfront property soon to be available

  1. Odd. I seem to recall this theory being held way back into the 80s….?
    I wonder how long it will be before someone tries to tie it to climate change?

  2. We need regulations to stop this ocean from forming. A new ocean will surely cause climate change. A global bureau for plate tectonics would do.

  3. Global Oceanacian is clearly anthropogenic in origin. And it’s progressing faster than we originally thought. Let me be the first to declare consensus on these points. The only answer is bigger government and curbs on capitalism. Clearly it’s time to raise taxes before it’s too late.

  4. {sarcasm}It surely is anthropogenic CO2 The excess heat has reached a tipping point there and split the desert and will endanger the neighboring populations. Geophysicists should study some climate dynamics {/sarcasm}

  5. It’s great to have the opportunity and the technology to observe and learn.
    But just like our climate, there is absolutely noting we can do anything to stop this process.

  6. Darn, Ethiopia will now get more rain and turn all green and could be a good place to live. It will give food to the people.

  7. So in millions of years Ethiopia can install desalination plants and won’t have to worry about droughts anymore. But I suppose the bigger question is whether industrialized nations will be blamed for this crack and how many billions we will be asked to pay to offset the damage.

  8. Ethiopia! That’s where my church in Edina Minnesota, cooperated with 4 other churches (varying denominations, Congregational, Baptist, Catholic..!) and sent about 70 teams over 5 years to plant 1 million trees in two “drought struck” valleys.
    They also provided materials and helped the locals put in 3000 wells. (Ethiopia has copious underground water.)
    “Climate Change”? The RAINS came back. First to these valleys and then the rest of Ethiopia. Man made? You bet, the right way. (See Kilimonjaro write ups and Austrialian “bunny fence” write ups!)
    But this is the RIGHT way to do things. Not the “let’s punish (fill in the blank,
    America, Africa, Europe…) by restricting use of fossil fuels.”…
    As noted here, maybe the Earth has decided Ethiopia needs a LAKE SUPERIOR!
    Hugoson

  9. Nothing particularly new here except perhaps that the rate of separation may be increasing (or not). This process has been going on for millennia, the great lakes in Africa situated along the rift being part of the process. I remember my school years in South Africa ( sixties) where we were taught that the continent would break off eventually and that the rift extends all the way down to Mocambique. I don’t think that seaside properties are on the cards for some time yet.

  10. I’m wondering if there is a connection between the tsunami in December 2004 and the Ethiopian rift in January 2005…?

  11. Look the world’s spinning out of control. The UN should do something or we’re all going to die!

  12. wws,
    After the Moles are forced to abandon their tunnels due to flooding, they enter the land of the Chubs seeking work. At first they are welcomed with open arms because the Chubs despise hard labor. Conflict arises when a Chub scientist invents a machine that can do the work instead, making the Moles obsolete and a drag on Chub society. What follows is a brief war. The short war ended with no clear winner, and the two ethnic groups live together in uneasy peace.

  13. Al Gore (13:28:55) :
    “The earth has become so hot and dry it is cracking.”
    A simple topical application of a moisturizer will do the job.

  14. what are the chances of a massive flood basalt eruption (think formation of the Deccan traps)? That would be like the 19th century eruption of Laki on steroids.

  15. I wonder how much energy it took to push that wide crack for 35 miles?
    Always good to see nature dwarfing mankind’s best endeavours – put things into perspective, I think.

  16. Just wait until 2012, the Mayan calendar says so, and yes, it will be all our fault. People are no damn good. A tax on their heads!

  17. Don’t underestimate the creativity of Greens in figuring out how to turn earth cracks into a global warming story. An excerpt from SuperEco web site:
    “These cracks occur in more places than just dry deserts, and are known to occur in wet areas as well, also potentially expelling gases that contribute to overall warming. Scientists don’t know yet the extent of the problem nor how much the cracks actually contribute to global warming.
    So what can we do about it?
    Just our part. Cut back on what we can, like eating meat, buying things we don’t need, driving, and using energy in general—all the things that we know contribute to greenhouses gases and that we actually have some control over. Making our footprint smaller. And once we’ve done what we can to take care of the Earth, we’ll let the Earth take care of itself.”
    http://www.supereco.com/news/2009/03/01/earths-cracks-adding-to-greenhouse-gas/
    It was hard to type while laughing at the same time 😀

  18. This is an important observation & measurement.
    The science of geology is not nearly as settled as most people think.
    Obviously, it’s hard to peer down into the bowels of the Earth and as the post notes, mid-ocean spreading ridges are also hard to directly observe & measure.
    Interestingly enough, this rift is consistent with a controversial hypothesis that the Earth is expanding in diameter.
    There are some 40,000 miles of mid-ocean spreading ridges, where the Earth spreads apart, such as is observed, here, in this study.
    The basic idea is that unless there is an equal length of subducting plates, then the Earth must be expanding.
    Geologists have had a hard time identifying equal lengths of subducting plates (there are assertions of such identification) and these subducting plates are asserted to be concentrated in the Pacific Ocean basin, while the mid-ocean spreading ridges are evenly distributed around the world’s oceans (and now in Ethiopia).
    Interesting that Nature seems to challenge Man’s assumptions on such a regular basis.
    Humulity before the power & secrets of Nature should be Man’s starting point.

  19. You need a “Study” to find out if the ground has split apart. How about just sending one of those drones over tot ake a picture of it to see if it is really there.
    I predict the results of the study will show a definite trend line towards a gash opening in the ground.

  20. Hell_Is_Like_Newark (13:55:34) :
    what are the chances of a massive flood basalt eruption (think formation of the Deccan traps)? That would be like the 19th century eruption of Laki on steroids.

    http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/how_volcanoes_work/Fissure.html
    http://www3.hi.is/~oi/Pdf%20reprint%20library/Geology%20and%20geodynamics%20of%20Iceland.pdf
    Yes that would certainly be interesting if you got a continuous fissure eruption in that area that lasted any significant period of time.
    Larry

  21. “In 2005, a gigantic, 35-mile-long rift broke open the desert ground in Ethiopia. At the time, some geologists believed the rift was the beginning of a new ocean as two parts of the African continent pulled apart, but the claim was controversial.”
    I really do not see in which circles this news would have been “controversial” as it has been known for 30 years that this depression separating the “Danakil Alps” to the East from the African plate to West is indeed the stage of active rifting. The Tazieff team in 1976 if my memory serves me well measured the spreading near the Lake Assal in the Afar Territory. So it was know it is an active plate boundary. In fact the active rift doesn’t go through the Ormuz Straight but goes infto the Triple Point of the Afars through the Tadgoura Gulf and North in the Danakil depression.
    it is indeed exciting to watch and one can hope scientific work will be done in a peaceful area. And of course this has nothing to do with the global warming stuff.

  22. Hmm a flood basalt event really would be a Global tragedy. Though the meteorology would be interesting.

  23. James F. Evans writes: “Interestingly enough, this rift is consistent with a controversial hypothesis that the Earth is expanding in diameter.
    There are some 40,000 miles of mid-ocean spreading ridges, where the Earth spreads apart, such as is observed, here, in this study.
    The basic idea is that unless there is an equal length of subducting plates, then the Earth must be expanding.
    Geologists have had a hard time identifying equal lengths of subducting plates (there are assertions of such identification) and these subducting plates are asserted to be concentrated in the Pacific Ocean basin, while the mid-ocean spreading ridges are evenly distributed around the world’s oceans (and now in Ethiopia).”
    An expanding Earth would have an effect on Earth rotation as geophysicians can calculate it. Subduction zones are indeed active around the Pacific but also exist under the West Indies in the Atlantic Ocean and places in the Indian Ocean. One can wiki this very easily. As for indentifying the length of subducted lithosphere, indeed since it is melting in the upper mantle, one would have a difficulty measuring it… In fact the oldest oceanic crust left is Jurassic until all of it will be subducted.
    As I wrote the triple junction of the Afar has been known and identified as such since the 1960s and there are only two places on Earth where one can WALK an active rift: Island and Afar/Ethiopian.

  24. Aw come on folks – I expect better of this crowd
    No one has gone to
    “The Earth has reached a ripping point!” ???
    I’m disappointed…
    Mike

  25. James F. Evans (14:10:50) :
    Don’t forget that the earth’s diameter actually shrank during the event that triggered the 2003 tsunami in Indonesia. Do we know if the earth is back to it’s previous 2003 diameter given all those expending cracks at the bottom of the world’s oceans?

  26. Al Gore (13:28:55) : “The earth has become so hot and dry it is cracking.”
    Ray (13:43:44) : “A simple topical application of a moisturizer will do the job.”
    Ray, I think that should actually be:
    A simple TROPICAL application of a moisturizer will do the job.
    [:)]

  27. How good is it to read about interesting scientific research that doesn’t somewhere somehow blame mankind for the outcome.
    Regards
    Michael

  28. I wonder if this big crack has split in two a single species population of say apes. If so each population will from now on evolve in isolation from the other and in a million years or so from now…
    Not only can we do nothing about this sort of thing it has long been thought that the isolated enviroments created in this part of the world by volcanic activity, uplift and rifting has been instrumental in the isolation and evolution of all sorts of species including ourselves. In short had East Africa remained as quiet geologically as West Africa the chances are we would not be here.

  29. [ Just going to post when I saw similar comments in a couple of previous posts so curiosity as to the possible outcomes [ very, very short term outcomes geologically speaking ] of this event have been triggered in other contributors as well. ]
    The apparent speed and scale/ size of this geological earth ripping event is astonishing.
    My immediate reaction is to ask just what are the possible consequences of this geological event if it continues on at it’s current development rate?
    Perhaps a geologist or even a volcanologist would like to comment particularly if there is a likelihood of very large scale extrusions of cubic kilometres or even tens of cubic kilometres of magma were to eventuate from the new Afar Rift over the next few decades.
    There is volcanic activity right along the few thousand kilometres of the African Rift Valley so a geological event of the magnitude of the Afar Rift must have some consequences on any volcanic activity in the region.
    It was even suggested by a poster on this forum only a few days ago that Mount Nyiragong, a massive and highly active volcano near Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [ different country to the Republic of the Congo or Brazzaville Congo ! ] and situated on the same Great African Rift Valley fault line may in fact be one of the planet’s still unidentified super volcanoes.
    A geological event of the scale of the opening of the Afar Rift might just be the trigger to set in motion another great volcanic event that will drastically affect weather and climate on a global scale for decades or at the worst for mankind, for centuries ahead.
    Just another possible out of all the many great unknowns and imponderables that drive our global weather and which is totally unforeseen by those who believe that we can both accurately calculate the global temperatures a century ahead and can control our global climate’s temperature to within a fraction of a degree.

  30. Global Oceanacian IS clearly anthropogenic in origin!
    The problem is that too many people with too many possessions (big houses, SUV’s, King size beds and so forth) are living on the coasts.
    This puts undue pressure on the coastlines, and tilts the earth toward the softened earth under the oceans! Then the earth shifts and we get cracking!
    We must give up our decadent lifestyles and live with less or this cracking is going to spread. Also, everyone must move out of New York and California and move to Oklahoma and Nebraska to balance the weight!
    And, of course, EVERYONE needs to eat less or eventually the weight of people pushing down on the earth is going to make it break out in volcanos like zits and POW! It’s Krakatoa-time!

  31. I seem to remember that this was common knowledge when I did A Level Geography in the UK in the 1960s.
    Time and again I am seeing statements of the previously well known and obvious dressed up as new findings in every field of science.
    Are the scientists conning the ignorant politicians to extract funding or have their educations been so lacking that they have no idea of that which has gone before, even in their own fields ?

  32. There was a ‘b’ grade sci-fi movie about this topic year — the answer was to use an A – bomb to save the world. Kinda long the same lines as the ‘B’ grade global warming movie years ago– but it had a giant squid — I was about 10 years old at the time, so it was pretty cool– I think a bomb on Washington-london- and Copenhagen might go a long way to saving the planet– anybody have a good script with some ‘A’bombs in it to save the planet ?? Maybe Algore would finance the movie– maybe called “An Inconvient Bomb’ made by “An Inconvient Boob !”

  33. Ethiopia is supposed to be where man originated.
    The warmists will be delighted and make pilgrimages.

  34. James F. Evans wrote:
    “Interestingly enough, this rift is consistent with a controversial hypothesis that the Earth is expanding in diameter.
    There are some 40,000 miles of mid-ocean spreading ridges, where the Earth spreads apart, such as is observed, here, in this study.
    The basic idea is that unless there is an equal length of subducting plates, then the Earth must be expanding.”
    This sort of rift can be compensated for by the scrunching up of the rocks on either side. As well as the ‘loss’ of surface area in ocean trenches there is the loss due to the scrunching up of mountains. For example India is still driving into Asia and the Rockies and Andies are on continents that are moving west.

  35. Global warming causes volcanoes.
    http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090917/full/news.2009.926.html
    Although this is a subscription site, I am sure that other readers can acess the full content. A feature also appeard in New Scientist a few weeks back. seems that Fred Houlihan was rather taken by this piece of science.
    McGuire said publicly that SLR is 5mm per year. Obviously the weight of all that water is causing volcanoes on the sea bed near Easter Island.
    Cheers
    Paul

  36. Surely by using our vast technological prowess, humanity can repair this defect in our planet and restore Gaia’s natural balance. Big staples?
    Or (here’s a thought), open a sea channel/canal to the Rift Valley in order to drain off the rising seas, thereby saving Florida, Mauritius, and other valuable lowlands from drowning in Al’s Big Flood.
    Geo-engineering. Everybody grab a shovel.

  37. “Will sea levels fall across the planet when this hole fills up with water?” wobble
    Good question. No, under my newly created “Steady State Earth Theory” new water will be created as the rift expands.

  38. If there is anything I have learned from the Man-made global warming controversy, is that there are a lot of assumptions in the scientific arena.
    And if these assumptions are not challenged they become the conventional wisdom.
    Assumptions have now become the conventional wisdom that the science is “settled” on AGW.
    But is that the case?
    A lot of readers, here, including myself, say, “hell no”.
    Numerous individuals in geology have pointed to assumptions that have colored geology:
    “Van Andel (1984) conceded that plate tectonics had serious flaws, and that the need for a growing number of ad hoc modifications cast doubt on its claim to be the ultimate unifying global theory. Lowman (1992a) argued that geology has largely become “a bland mixture of descriptive research and interpretive papers in which the interpretation is a facile cookbook application of plate-tectonics concepts … used as confidently as trigonometric functions” (p. 3). Lyttleton and Bondi (1992) held that the difficulties facing plate tectonics and the lack of study of alternative explanations for seemingly supportive evidence reduced the plausibility of the theory.”
    Gee, where have we seen this type of reasoning?

  39. Sorry for being of topic, but it seems that major new development in climate science is underway. Namely, it appears that Roy Spencer went along with IPCC consensus science! Whether it is genuine U turn in Spencer understanding or not I don’t know, but what Spencer now is saying is that climate sensitivity of IPCC models is not so high, and that his own analysis basically confirms that. http://www.drroyspencer.com/
    In his recent comment on Lindzen and Choi (2009) Spencer is confusing. First, he says that:
    “while I tend to agree with the Lindzen and Choi position that the real climate system is much less sensitive than the IPCC climate models suggest, it is not clear to me that their results actually demonstrate this.”
    That sounds like he is not convinced by Lindzen and Choi analysis, but that he agrees with their conclusions on other grounds. But, then he presents his own analysis which concludes on the contrary:
    “So, my ERBE results are not that different from the models.”
    So, does he think that model sensitivity is “far too high” or “not so different” from his analysis?
    I think that first comment we shall treat just as a rhetorical remnants of old, skeptical Spencer, while his real present convictions are expressed in the second comment.
    Moreover, in one of his previous blog posts Spencer calculates the climate sensitivity from the satellite data to be 1.6 to 2 deg C, living ample room for upward adjustments in the future to make them completely in line with models, by emphasizing that his calculations were based on “only 9 years of satellite record while “the model results shown in the above figure come from 50 years of output from each of the 18 models”.
    You can bet that new Spencer’s paper which is for fourth or fifth time under review in a different journal basically repeats all of that. And you can probably also bet that you will not be able to find a word in it about “too high sensitivity” of IPCC climate models.
    That seems a very serious matter to me. One of the most powerful minds in the climate science, until now highly skeptical, essentially accepted IPCC line. Alarmists have a good reason to celebrate.

  40. “Adolfo Giurfa (12:42:35) :
    Gaia is growing fat and ripping its skirt apart.! Astonishing!. I will look for other rifts in Google Earth, along plate boundaries.”
    I think you will find one of the North West coast around the Canary islands. A whole island is cracking apart, and if it finnaly splits (Which it will do) it will create a tsunami which will be bad news for the entire Eastern seaboard of the USA.
    “Ray (13:07:21) :
    Darn, Ethiopia will now get more rain and turn all green and could be a good place to live. It will give food to the people.”
    Ethiopia is not the dust bowl it’s made out to be in the MSM, it is actually quite fertile.
    “Mark Hugoson (13:11:31) :”
    Admirable effort indeed. The other issue facing Ethiopia with trees and water is that the Eucalyptus was introduced in the 1960’s I think and is now wreaking havock with other species and soaking up as much ground water as root can find.

  41. paulhan (15:25:02) : In the animation you show it is said that the only place where marsupial exists is in Australia. Surprinsingly there are marsupials where your animation shows Australia contacted South America. Here in Lima, capital of Peru (12°S, 75°W) we have a marsupial called Opossum (spanish:zarigueya) but there are also marsupials in the southern peruvian amazon jungle, at the Manu national park. (Madre de Dios department).

  42. One of the TV science programs, Nature – I think, explained all this about 15 years ago in living-moving color and animation. It took about 15 seconds for eastern Africa to separate and for the rift to fill with water. Similarly, this story has been done in National Geographic magazine. I’m not going to look up the references to this stuff, they ought to be easy to find. These rifts are either the result of too much CO2 or George Bush and I can’t do much about either at this point.

  43. Will sea level fall when the rift opens to the ocean?
    A little counter-intuitive but sea level will actually rise (but it will take awhile).
    New ocean basins start out shallow and it takes over 100 million years for that new ocean to deepen and reach the average depths of older mature oceans at 6,000 metres.
    So as this new shallow ocean is opening, mature deeper ocean basins will be subducting below a continent somewhere. Overall, the average depth of the ocean becomes more shallow and all that ocean water can’t be held in a smaller overall basin, so sea level goes up (in time).
    Click on the googlemap linked above and zoom out until you can see the Red Sea above it. Notice how shallow it is. Notice the mid-oceanic ridges in the middle of it. Zoom out even further and look at the mid-oceanic ridges all over the planet. The Continents used to be right next to those ridges. One can even pick out where Gondwana unzipped and split apart a little southeast of this location – as most large continents eventually do.

  44. “Will sea levels fall across the planet when this hole fills up with water?” wobble
    I’d say, no, the opposite. There might be slightly more surface area to work with, but less depth.
    The new ocean floor will be shallow, as it has to tear down through the continental shelf before it achieves any real depth. On the other side, specifically the oceanic portions of the Indian and Australian plates, are being subducted under the Sunda plate. Thus, you lose out on overall depth, which means volume, which means higher sea levels everywhere else.
    Of course, the Somalian Plate is still moving more slowly than, say most of the plates around the Ring of Fire, so while there’s going to be imminent sea level changes, don’t hold your breath.

  45. Interesting article.
    “click for very large image (2.4MB)”
    Clicking on the image gives me a 60.9kb image. Misprint under the image or wrong link?

  46. So if this crack turns into another sea, filling it up will compensate and keep the sea level from rising when Antarctica and Greenland melt.
    And you beach folks were worried !
    🙂
    Mike
    elev 99′ MSL

  47. Stephen Wilde (15:18:51) : “Time and again I am seeing statements of the previously well known and obvious dressed up as new findings in every field of science.”
    The other side of the coin is the glut of post-modernist publications contradicting the well known and obvious. Why? Because that’s the only way to attract any attention. Too many scientists, too few horizons, too little creativity.

  48. Adolfo Giurfa (16:57:00) : “In the animation you show it is said that the only place where marsupial exists is in Australia. Surprisingly there are marsupials where …Australia contacted South America. Here in Lima…we have a marsupial called Opossum (zarigueya) but there are also marsupials…at the Manu national park…”
    Marsupials obviously are extraterrestrial in origin and come from the fourth planet.

  49. As I write I am setting in my Den over a couple of miles or so of Columbia River Basalt
    another Deccan-type event.I something like it happened now..
    AGW would pale in comparason….

  50. Glad to see the interest in geology expressed above. This rifting event in Africa is NOT controversial in the field; this behavior has been seen many times before in the long history of the earth. Perhaps the most spectacular is evident on your globe. Take Africa and South America – they just seem to fit together, don’t they? Actually, they DID fit together once upon a time. Beginning in Jurassic time (if I recall correctly) something like this Ethiopian event was happening. It took a LONG time to complete, but by the Cretaceous the two pieces were speeding apart in something like world-record time.
    Similar events broke the supercontinent Pangea into various pieces before that – Laurasia and Gondwana resulting. Gondwana then broke apart with India sent off to careen into Asia, creating the Himalayas; Antarctica zooming south to sit upon the pole; Australia to the east. Laurasia gave us North America and europe among other chunks.
    An earlier event in North America started up then failed, this event marking the Keweenawan System of the Late Proterozoic Era (all those names; it just gets more and more confusing). This resulted in the massive basaltic lava flows of the Lake Superior basin, which cause the Mid-Continent Gravity High and the other one that runs down the other Great Lakes from Huron to Erie.
    In many cases these rifting events have caused excellent conditions for the deposition of beds that generate and trap oil. Brazil is now exploring and finding huge reserves in the Atlantic Ocean (last I saw they’re claiming about 35 billion barrels, and the exploration continues). Similar finds presumably exist elsewhere off SA, Africa, and North America.
    We really don’t know that much about our very dynamic earth. Just as, I suspect, we don’t know that much about our very dynamic climate (or that little ball of fire, Sol, in the sky).
    However, plate tectonics IS a unifying theory of geology (at least since the Proterozoic, say, about 2 billion years ago). Before that, similar processes probably existed (rock density and expansion due to heating are driving forces of plate tectonics, and that has been with us since the creation of the universe). However, there was a lot more heat way back when; the creation of the earth’s core and far more radioactivity provided heat in abundance that may have made things far more chaotic than they are today. The planet is cooler inside, but it’s still very dynamic (I won’t say alive).
    Just in passing on some comments above: 1) The Earth is not expanding. If anything it is bound to shrink a bit as it grows cooler (very far in the future). 2) “…I wonder if this big crack has split in two a single species population of say apes. If so each population will from now on evolve in isolation from the other and in a million years or so from now…” Yes one can see these things in the aftermath of the great Gondwana breakup. Still, it takes a while. 3) Something about this African rift being like the situation in California. No, in California we have a compressional event (Africa is tensional). Two pieces of continents are rubbing against each other, as they are propelled by the different plates they ride on. This tends to push rocks up, not to pull them apart and cause some chunks to fall down. A great example of this latter is the Great Basin (California to Colorado). The Basin and Range Province is one of extension, great chunks of earth sank down (grabens). The mountain ranges (horsts) didn’t. We once did a gravity survey across the Panamint Valley (next one west of Death Valley). The geophysicists figured that the basement (the original surface rocks, now covered by sediments derived by erosion from the Panamint and other mountains) had subsided 35,000 feet.
    Remember, in geology, Time is the fourth dimension. Some things, like a volcanic eruption, can occur in a matter of hours. Others, like the splitting of continents and the formation of new ocean basin, take millions of years. Buy property with this in mind. 😉

  51. James F. Evans quotes: “Numerous individuals in geology have pointed to assumptions that have colored geology:
    “Van Andel (1984) conceded that plate tectonics had serious flaws, and that the need for a growing number of ad hoc modifications cast doubt on its claim to be the ultimate unifying global theory. Lowman (1992a) argued that geology has largely become “a bland mixture of descriptive research and interpretive papers in which the interpretation is a facile cookbook application of plate-tectonics concepts … used as confidently as trigonometric functions” (p. 3). Lyttleton and Bondi (1992) held that the difficulties facing plate tectonics and the lack of study of alternative explanations for seemingly supportive evidence reduced the plausibility of the theory.”
    Facts:
    1) Benioff plans subduction zones exist: Earthquakes and associated volcanism and convergence can be measured.
    2) Seafloor spreading has been demonstrated by Vine and Matthews (symetry of the remanent magnetic anomaly of oceanic crust along the rift axis) and divergence can be measured.
    3) Tuzo Wilson has demonstrated the Transform faults (strike slip faults with linking other plate boundaries. The rate of slip can be measured.
    So Plate Tectonics IS the unifying concept. Like any global concept it needed tweaking. In particular, one of the main objection geologists scorned geophysicists with was the observation that most mountain chains are festoned and show a ductile deformation of the lithosphere in clear conflict with the early, dogmatic view that only rigid plate boundaries i.e. no ductile deformation could produce earthquakes.
    Well since then everyone has calmed down and research has shown plate boundaries to be complex structures, that lithosphere mehanical behaviour could also depend on the speed at which convergence or divergence occur and many other specific points have helped better understand mechanism, including modeling.
    But there are fundamentals that are unlikely to change, just as in astronomy, the Earth still revolves around the Sun.

  52. @ 2SoonOld2LateSmart
    The more advanced the animal, the longer the childhood.
    (Well, at least that is my hope.)

  53. I also wish to add that no one was poised to become a billionaire promoting plate tectonics. Those who used the concept and found oil and gas could have very well come up empty handed had the concept been flawed…

  54. Symbolism at it’s very best … just in time for Copenhagen a 35 mile trench opens up in Africa.
    On the up-side we can now reduce the carbon footprint of all those climate crime dollars by using an armada of B52’s to dump them directly.

  55. Could we continue that expansion animation to get a guess about the future layout? What new continent will exist when Africa splits?
    BTW, lots of amusing posts in this.

  56. Retired Engineer (12:37:34), says:
    “The same will happen in California after the Big One.”
    No. Not the same kind of tectonic margin. California is a transform margin and is headed north, not west.
    Power Grab (13:21:59), asks:
    “I’m wondering if there is a connection between the tsunami in December 2004 and the Ethiopian rift in January 2005…?”
    No.
    James F. Evans (14:10:50), claims:
    “Interestingly enough, this rift is consistent with a controversial hypothesis that the Earth is expanding in diameter.”
    Not even close. In what way does this give any credence to such a nonsensical claim. And what happens to solids as they cool, just in a general sense? That alone gives you your answer. What a silly thing for you to say because there is not a geologist worth their salt that would make the claim the diameter of the earth is increasing.
    Hell_Is_Like_Newark (13:55:34) , asks:
    “what are the chances of a massive flood basalt eruption (think formation of the Deccan traps)?”
    Not likely. Flood basalts are linked to the initiation of new hot spots (e.g. Columbia river basalts in Washington are the flood basalts from Yellowstone)

  57. Haha, the comment about Nigeria was funny, but just to be sure, Nigeria is on the opposite, Western side of Africa. So you shouldn’t believe e-mails from Nigeria that they have new oceans. 😉

  58. There’s a big, active crack in Antarctica too, which given enough equipment, it would be possible to walk across. It is called the West Antarctic Rift, rather unimaginatively, I think.
    http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~mstuding/tam_map_large.html
    I guess the Ross Sea ice shelves must be growing as the rift enlarges. Marie Byrd land is an active hotspot, so somewhere, beneath the ice, a tear in the ground like that near Afar could occur anytime, or has even already done so…

  59. being a geologist, I must say a big “thanks” to Jim F and Antonio San for their very clean, simple and exaustive explanations on plate tectonics.
    THANKS!!!!

  60. This is way cool, but no surprise. I learned about the African Rift back in the ’70s (though the news in this article is the speed of a single rifting event…)
    Take a look at Madagascar. Now look at the coast line of Mozambique.
    Yup, split off some millions of years ago. India used to be down there too, long ago. Notice Madagascar is on a North East trajectory? Like India was… (though I think it is a bit more east… look out Thailand!…)
    Now the rift zone is a bit further over under Africa, so we get, yes, The Great Rift Valley and Lake Victoria (and all the rift valley lake chain, really).
    Basically follow the Nile from the root in the lakes along the borders of Tanzania, Kenya, etc. That is where Africa is “unzipping”; so in a few hundred million years or so there will be a new “Madagascar” like island just off shore from a slimmer Africa. It will hold what is now Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya… The only real question is will it be a set of small islands like Mozambique, or will it become a single larger chunk like India?
    Decisions, decisions…
    Oh, and per the “expanding earth” theory. That was one of the common theories back in the 1950’s. Always bugged me for one simple reason:
    Matter is neither created nor destroyed.
    For the earth to expand: From where does the added ‘stuff’ come? …
    Until you can show a stargate in the planet core with stuff coming in through a worm hole, we’re not expanding… No “stuff” to do it with.

  61. They’re going to need a heckuva lot of Polyfilla to mend that crack.
    On a more serious note, I love seeing our planet in action. It puts of all the crackpot greenie demands into perspective.

  62. Fools. Can’t you see it’s the constant application of automobile brakes to pavement surfaces in the US and Asia that’s pulling the skin of the Earth apart! Remember – you first heard it here.

  63. Another little geologic/continental drift factoid for you.
    The location of this rift used to be very close to the South Pole, 440 million years ago. It would have been under a few kilometres of glacier at the time.

  64. I sometimes wonder about what happened to the convective divergence zone underlying the East Pacific Rise, after that feature got subducted. It certainly continues under the continent, in the Salton Basin, due to the fact that the apparent triple point is on land there. I use the term apparent, because perhaps it’s not a viable triple point. Perhaps the EPR is reforming, under North America. You know, the broad zone of extension that trends under the Mojave, the Great Basin, then on out toward Yellowstone. And beyond?

  65. Where’s the extra stuff coming from? Continual bombardment by extra-terrestrial stuff, like asteroids, etc. We don’t have pieces breaking off and flying into outer space, so over the billions of years that particulate matter accumulates. Struck me as a simple enough explanation.

  66. Retired Engineer,
    It is not ther same as the California boundary. Etopia is on a rift and San Francisco is on a strike-slip fault.
    Retired geologist

  67. Let us go a bit further in that theory. What is an atom supposed to look like, and why do we humans grow as we age?
    We get larger from conception through adulthood by the acquisition of atomic particulates, which grow into additional cells. We grow until we reach our peak, then we start to contract in old age. Entropy.
    Our star (Sun) is the neutron around which the protons (planets) circle.
    There are uncountable galaxies. These are the cells, made up of the atoms in said galaxies.
    Allow your mind to follow to the inevitable conclusion of that.

  68. BUT! Let me use that as a reassurance of our place in existence. While we may be but the tiniest piece of the universe, we are still a part of the whole of it.

  69. “Atalay Ayele, professor at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, led the investigation, painstakingly gathering seismic data surrounding the 2005 event that led to the giant rift opening more than 20 feet in width in just days.”
    Average and smooth it out over a couple of decades, and voila! It’s just a fingernail’s growth rate, just like the geophysicists say.

  70. I’ll take the expanding Earth theory over the wildly spinning swirling and bumping continents theory any day. We can all see that Africa and South America separated along the mid-atlantic rift, and there was no subduction. The continents were pushed apart. The question is: Does the same thing happen in the Pacific, or are there an entirely different set of rules over there?

  71. I suspect that the coincidence of the “Expanding Earth” continental shapes may indicate that surface tectonic flow is primarily along great circle paths.

  72. nanny_govt_sucks (12:21:08) :
    I’ll take the expanding Earth theory over the wildly spinning swirling and bumping continents theory any day. We can all see that Africa and South America separated along the mid-atlantic rift, and there was no subduction. The continents were pushed apart. The question is: Does the same thing happen in the Pacific, or are there an entirely different set of rules over there?

    How do you mean there is no subduction? There are subduction zones all over the earth. The subduction does not need to occur in the same ocean basin that the spreading occurs in.
    There are subduction zones along most of the west coast of south America and Central America , at the boundary of the Cocos plate and the Caribbean plate, the Nazca plate and the South American plate, There is subduction stretching from Alaska to the area east of Australia along the Aleutian Island arc down to central Japan, and down to the boundary between the Australian Plate and the Pacific plate.
    The Mid Atlantic ridge is where most of the spreading is occurring, and most of the subduction driven by that spreading occurs in the Pacific basin.
    You don’t need a magic expanding earth to explain it, just an understanding that some of the displacement is taken up through mountain building (Himalayas) as plates collide (Indian plate vs Eurasian plate) and some by subduction as seen on both sides of the Pacific basin as it gets squeezed.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plate_tectonics
    http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Glossary/PlateTectonics/Maps/map_plate_tectonics_world.html
    Larry

  73. Larry,
    So there’s spreading along the Mid-Atlantic ridge, and that causes subduction in along the Pacific coastlines. So what about spreading in the Pacifiic, does that cause subduction along the Atlantic coastlines? I don’t get it. Why is there a different set of rules in the Pacific vs Atlantic.

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