Earth’s tectonic plates are constantly in motion. As such, the position of Earth’s continents is constantly changing.
In fact, as recently as 335 million years ago, the continents which we know today made up one large supercontinent called Pangaea.
Ever since scientists discovered the changing nature of Earth’s surface, they have been anticipating the continents’ next dramatic changes.
According to Quartz, Africa will eventually split into two separate continents. There’s no need to worry about the continent separating any time soon, however, as Africa will not completely split for tens of millions of years.
Kenya experienced heavy rains last March which collapsed hospital walls, flooded neighborhoods, and closed off major highways. The extreme weather exposed a fault line which led geologists to realize that Africa will inevitably split.
Lucia Perez Diaz, a postdoctoral researcher on tectonics at Royal Holloway, stated:
“The tear, which continues to grow, collapsed part of a highway and was accompanied by seismic activity in the area.”
Why Is This Happening?
Active tectonic plates in earth’s lithosphere glide over the asthenosphere at varying speeds. Plates often rupture and cause “rifts,” which lead to the creation of new plate boundaries.
Rifts occur during the initial stages of continental break-ups and can lead to the formation of new ocean basins. For example, the break up of South America and Africa nearly 138 million years ago resulted in the South Atlantic ocean.
Similarly, the East African Rift Valley is splitting Africa into two unequal portions: the Somali and Nubian plates. The East African Rift Valley stretches over 3,000 kilometers from the Gulf of Aden in the north to Zimbabwe in the south.
Rifts go unnoticed most of time. However, renewed movement along old faults as the Nubian and Somali plates continue to move apart may result in earthquakes.
Perez Diaz stated:
“Dramatic events, such as sudden motorway-splitting faults or large catastrophic earthquakes may give continental rifting a sense of urgency but, most of the time, it goes about splitting Africa without anybody even noticing.”
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