By human standards, it’s still some time away. But scientists strongly believe that Africa will split in two and a new ocean will form.
The time frame they’re giving is between five and ten million years.
The reason for this prediction is that the Arabian, Nubian, and Somali tectonic plates underneath the continent are expected to be ripped so far apart that Africa will literally be divided and a new ocean will form.
The specific area where the plates are splitting is Ethiopia’s arid Afar region. Since 2005, a 35-mile-long rift has opened up in the desert, a clearly visible gouge in the landscape.
It’s an incredibly hot region where daytime temperatures can reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Indeed, Dallol in Ethiopia is known to be the hottest inhabited town on earth and is sometimes referred to as Dante’s inferno
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According to Leeds University Ph.D. student Christopher Moore there is clear evidence that the ‘oceanic crust’ which is forming there is very different from continental crust in composition and density.
Advances in technology
The theory of a new ocean being formed has been floating around for a while. It is down to the advancement of GPS technology that scientists are now more confident.
“With GPS measurements, you can measure rates of movement down to a few millimeters per year,” explained marine geophysicist Ken Macdonald of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “As we get more and more measurements from GPS, we can get a much greater sense of what’s going on.”
Researchers are however still not entirely sure what causes the tectonic plates to move in the first place.
One theory is that extreme heat is causing rocks to bubble at the point where the three plates intersect.
Before the earth existed as it does today, with its seven distinct continents, there was just a single supercontinent. It was known as Pangaea and began to break apart about 175 million years ago.
Image credit: University of Rochester