A CONTINENTAL drift is a phenomenon that has not been observed for hundreds of millions of years.
The tectonic plates of Africa have collided to form great mountains and pulled apart to form huge basins. But could tectonic movements actually split the continent in two?
Is Africa divided into two continents?
Shifting tectonic plates have sliced through the continent over the past 25 to 35 million years, according to Cynthia Ebinger, Chair of Geology at Tulane University in New Orleans.
But it was 2005 when the 35-mile-long East African Rift Valley formed in the Ethiopian desert, and 2018 when a separate fracture was discovered in Kenya after heavy rains, prompting evacuations.
According to geologist David Adede, the Kenyan rift may have existed long before it was discovered and was originally filled with volcanic ash that had been washed away.
The Nubian and Somali plates separate from the Arabian plate to the north, forming a “Y”-shaped fissure system, the Geological Society explained.
These plates intersect at a so-called “triple junction” in the Afar region of Ethiopia.
Scientists are not sure about the exact cause of the crack.
But the region is characterized by volcanic activity, brittle faults, and major river systems and lake sediments that could be the culprits, the society added.
Although some researchers believe the rift is being driven by a massive ejection of superheated rock from the planet’s core.
How long will it take for Africa to split in two?
We will never see Africa split in two in our lifetime.
According to Ebinger, the crack is currently expanding at a rate of about 1/4 inch (6.35 mm) per year.
That’s roughly the rate at which toenails grow, Ken Macdonald, an earth sciences professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Live Science.
At this rate, it will take another five to ten million years for the continent to split.
What would Africa look like if it split in two?
Once Africa finally splits, Somalia and parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania will form a continent in their own right, accompanied by a newborn coastline.
“The Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea will flood across the Afar region and into the East African Rift Valley and become a new ocean, and that part of East Africa will become its own little continent,” Macdonald told Mashable.
In a separate interview with Earth.com, Macdonald added: “What we don’t know is whether this split will continue at its current pace, eventually opening up an ocean basin like the Red Sea and later something much larger – a small version of the Atlantic.” ocean.
“Or could it go faster and get there faster? Or could it stall like the Atlantic did before actual seafloor spreading began?
“At current speeds, a sea the size of today’s Red Sea could form in about 20 to 30 million years.”
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