So there’s a massive crack in the African continent.
Stretching several kilometres, only recently did it make a sudden appearance in south-western Kenya after heavy rains in mid-March, but has since continued to grow, reports The Week:
A witness said the opening appeared so quickly he was able to watch it form and run through his home, reports Reuters. He only just managed to collect some of his belongings before his house collapsed.
Of course, for those of you who are down with Darwin, you will understand that the Earth is an ever-changing planet. But this tear – which was made worse by seismic activity in the area – has renewed questions about whether the African continent is splitting in two, reports Quartz.
First, let’s take a look at the damage, which saw part of the Nairobi-Narok highway collapse:
Scientists are thinking that the split is, in fact, proof that the East African Rift Valley will be the eventual cause of the African continent splitting into two unequal parts, at the boundaries of the Somali and Nubian plates:
The Earth’s lithosphere (formed by the crust and the upper part of the mantle) is broken up into a number of tectonic plates. These plates are not static, but move relative to each other at varying speeds, “gliding” over a viscous asthenosphere.
Exactly what mechanism or mechanisms are behind their movement is still debated, but are likely to include convection currents within the asthenosphere and the forces generated at the boundaries between plates.
From the Gulf of Aden in the north and towards Zimbabwe in the south, the activity occured along the eastern branch of the rift valley, running along Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania:
If you’re frothing to find out how it works, let’s take a look:
When the lithosphere is subject to a horizontal extensional force it will stretch, becoming thinner. Eventually, it will rupture, leading to the formation of a rift valley.
This process is accompanied by surface manifestations along the rift valley in the form of volcanism and seismic activity. Rifts are the initial stage of a continental break-up and, if successful, can lead to the formation of a new ocean basin.
National Geographic with a look at the future:
Eventually, the Somali plate may completely separate from the Nubian plate and form a separate land mass comparable to Madagascar or New Zealand. Fortunately for those who live there, that separation isn’t expected to happen for another 50 million years.
It does mean, however, that the physical effects of that separation will continue to be felt. Still, I bet it will be a cleaner divorce than Brexit.
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