U.S. Water News Online
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Ethiopian, American and European
researchers have observed a fissure in a desert in the remote
northeast that could be the "birth of a new ocean basin," scientists
Researchers from Britain, France, Italy and the U.S. have been
observing the 37-mile long fissure since it split open in September
in the Afar desert and estimate it will take a million years to fully
form into an ocean, said Dereje Ayalew, who leads the team of 18
scientists studying the phenomenon.
The fissure, now 13 feet wide, formed in just three weeks after a
Sept. 14 earthquake in a barren region called Boina, some 621 miles
north east of the capital, Addis Ababa, said Dereje.
"We believe we have seen the birth of a new ocean basin," said
Dereje of Addis Ababa University. "This is unprecedented in
scientific history because we usually see the split after it has
happened. But here we are watching the phenomenon."
The findings have been presented at a weeklong American
Geophysical Union meeting taking place in San Francisco.
"It's amazing," the BBC quoted one of the Afar researchers, Cindy
Ebinger of the Royal Holloway University of London, as saying in San
Francisco. "It's the first large event we've seen like this in a rift
zone since the advent of some of the space-based techniques we're now
using, and which give us a resolution and a detail to see what's
really going on and how the earth processes work."
The Ethiopian Afar Geophysical Lithospheric Experiment, involving
scientists from Royal Holloway and the universities of Leicester,
Leeds and Addis Ababa, is using sensitive instruments to study what
is happening deep within the earth.
Dereje said that the split is the beginning of a long process,
which will eventually lead to Ethiopia's eastern part tearing off
from the rest of Africa, a sea forming in the gap. The Afar desert is
being torn off the continent by about two centimeters each year.
"The crust under Afar is becoming like the crust found in the Red
Sea," said Dereje, head of earth science at Addis Ababa University.
"Once the crust is formed you will have water because it is a low
area and the water will migrate from the Red Sea and the Gulf of
Aden. It becomes a basin."
The scientists plan to set up an observatory to watch the split
and see how it develops.
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