Pop quiz: How many continents are there on Earth? Easy: seven, isn’t it? Any third grader can even tell you the answer; but why on Earth did we ask you that? There’s a geologic undergoing process (pun intended) that Africa is on track splitting up into two continents. You better not freak yet, it could take eons before it does so.
Related media: What If the African Continent Broke Apart?
A Cracking Tale Of Two Africas
On Monday, March 19, 2018, geologists confirmed a colossal crack in the earth that split the Nairobi-Narok highway in Kenya, some 152 kilometers (95 miles) west from Nairobi. This event seems really terrifying if you think the end of days is nigh. The crack was really big: a staggering 15 meters (50 feet) deep, and stretched for also more than 15 meters (50 feet) wide.
What on Earth is really happening? The news of this geologic activity was quickly determined that the continent of Africa is geologically breaking into two. Like seriously! Believe it or not; it’s true. The northeastern stretch of Africa is gradually cracking into what will eventually become two separate land masses, not unlike how Africa and South America seem like two large pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. However, whether that’s what’s causing this crack is a huge debate on its own.
Scientists have known for quite a while that Africa is splitting up — thanks to plate tectonic activity. The lithosphere of the Earth — that’s the formation of the crust and the upper part of the mantle — is broken up into multiple tectonic plates. These plates slowly glide around (roughly at the pace at which your fingernails grow), bumping up against each other, and in some instance, stretches to the point that tears them apart. That’s exactly what’s going on here: Africa is breaking apart. That’s between the Nubian and Somalian tectonic plates, ripping itself apart.
The East African Rift Valley, which stretches about 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) north from the Gulf of Aden to Zimbabwe, is where this geologic break up would occur. This process could be the underlying reason for the crack in Kenya, its more likely more revealed now due to rainfall activity that’s weakened the crust, and not necessarily tectonic activity. However, there are similar results of erosion that’s been seen in tectonically stable regions like Arizona.
Africa Is Breaking Up
So when on Earth will there be two Africas? It’ll take a long ass time. The tectonic separation of northeastern Africa began about 25 million years ago, and would eventually take another staggering 50 million more years to totally break off as two distinct land masses considering the rate of tectonic activities.
When its done, the Earth will have a new big island somewhere in the midst of the Indian Ocean — making up this island would be part of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi. Would they still be Africa? For now we can’t do much than just watch nature pull off this stunt.
As geologist David Ahede told Daily Nation: “You cannot stop a geological process because it occurs from deep within the crust of the Earth.”
Here’s the interesting part: the East African Rift is currently giving scientists a pretty fascinating look at the different stages of tectonic action in real-time.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Fri, Jul 12, 2019.