Africa’s splitting plates could give birth to a new ocean
Mon, 10 Apr 2023

Africa’s splitting plates could give birth to a new ocean

Why in news? Africa could be split into two parts by the formation of a new ocean in the distant future, as per the researchers. 

Background :

  • Tectonic forces not only move the plates but also have the potential to cause them to rupture, resulting in the formation of a rift and potentially leading to the creation of new plate boundaries.
  • The phenomenon of rifting can be traced back ,when South America and Africa were divided into separate continents.

Present status

  • Gradual separation of the Somali and Nubian tectonic plates is leading to the formation of a rift that could eventually lead to the creation of a new ocean basin.
  • Arabian Plate has been gradually moving away from Africa, which has already led to the creation of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
  • The crack was located at the intersection of three tectonic plates — the African Nubian, African Somali, and Arabian — that have been separating for some time.
  • In 2018, a large crack emerged in the Kenyan Rift Valley, highlighting the ongoing process of rifting and its potential for creating a new ocean basin.
  • It may take millions of years to fully form a new ocean, the potential creation of a new coastline and sub-continents has significant implications for the continent’s future.

Challenges & consequences 

  • As the plates continue to split in the future, this phenomenon will result in the displacement of communities, settlements and various flora and fauna. Nearly 15 million people will be  internally displaced in Africa, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
  • Rapid urbanisation and increased settlements will put pressure on natural resources, leading to a scarcity of water, energy and food.
  • Uncontrolled waste disposal will also be a significant concern. Furthermore, some species will disappear, while others will become endangered due to habitat changes.
  • Rifts showcase a unique topography, distinguished by a chain of depressions bounded by faults and enclosed by elevated terrain. 
  • Separation of the Nubian and Somali plates can result in the formation of new faults, fissures and cracks or the reactivation of pre-existing faults, leading to seismic activity.
  • Proximity of the hot molten asthenosphere to the surface causes volcanism, further displaying the ongoing process of continental breakup.
  • Devastating weather patterns owing to global warming are altering landscapes and raising sea levels.
  • Seafloor spreading will gradually advance along the entire extent of the rift lead to the flooding of the ocean, resulting in the African continent becoming a smaller, significant island composed of fragments of Ethiopia and Somalia, including the Horn of Africa.

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