- They are pointing to a large crack, stretching several kilometres which surprisingly showed up in the South-West of Kenya, not long ago.The crack, which continues to grow, has already become a wide tear in the earth and has been followed by small earthquakes and tremors in the area.
It has caused part of the Nairobi-Narok Highway to collapse and caused some problem in farms and residential areas.
Geologists have evidence that Africa is splitting along the Great Rift Valley. (Quartz Africa)
The East African Rift Valley, where the split is slowly occurring, stretches over 3,000 kilometres from the Gulf of Aden, through Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique, towards Zimbabwe in the south of Africa.
The rift splits Africa into two unequal parts; known as the Somali and Nubian plates.
Plates of What?
Although the earth seems like one massive static piece, the upper part is made up of tectonic plates like the Somali and Nubian plates.
While they do not move like say, a body of water, the plates are not static, but instead, move in relation to each other at varying speeds.
Think of it as half of a pancake gliding over a large bowl of glue.
As it stands, the two halves of the pancake that is Africa are slowly moving away from each other.
No-one can say for sure why this is happening, but some of the likely reasons mentioned already include convection currents within the asthenosphere and the forces generated at the boundaries between plates.
The Rift Valley in East Africa (CNN)
While this may seem strange, it is simply geology taking its natural course.
Millions of years ago, most of the earth’s land was made up of one large super-continent called Pangaea. Over millions of years, chunks split off to form smaller continents and then they split even further to form the continents we have today.
Rifts of the kind we have in the Greater Rift Valley are usually the initial stage of a continental break-up, if successful, they can lead to the formation of a new ocean basin.
The most recent example of this is the South Atlantic Ocean which was created by the break up of South America and Africa around 138 million years ago.
So when does the split happen?
For all we know, by the time Africa’s split is complete, none of us will exist either as fossils or anything else.
The sequence of rifts that led to the split in South-Western Kenya started in the Afar region of Northern Ethiopia around 30 million years ago and has been moving at a rate of 2.5 to 5 cm a year.
That’s pretty slow when you think about it.
The rift may take tens of millions of years to completely open up. When it does, a new ocean will form in the space created by the broken-up plates. Eventually, over tens of millions of years more, the sea will spread across the entire length of the opening.
The ocean will flood in, effectively splitting Africa into a smaller continent and creating a large Island in the Indian Ocean made up of parts of Somalia and Ethiopia and other countries around the Horn of Africa.
Most observers will be given to believing the split is somewhat urgent, considering how it will affect daily life in some areas but for the most part, it’s really not much to be worried about.
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