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 user 2006-07-25 at 10:53:00 am Views: 36
  • #16114

    Secrets of ocean birth laid bare
    largest tear in the Earth’s crust seen in decades, if not centuries,
    could carve out a new ocean in Africa, according to satellite data.

    say a crack that opened up last year may eventually reach the Red Sea,
    isolating much of Ethiopia and Eritrea from the rest of Africa.The
    60km-long rift was initially sparked by an earthquake in
    September.Follow-up observations reported in the journal Nature suggest
    the split is growing at an unprecedented rate.

    We think if these processes continue, a new ocean will eventually form Dr Tim Wright, University of Oxford

    betrays events deep beneath the ground, where some of the tectonic
    plates that form Africa are gradually moving apart from the Arabian
    plate, causing the crust to stretch and thin.As rifts appear, molten
    rock bubbles up from beneath the surface, hardening to form a new strip
    of ocean floor.Dr Tim Wright from the University of Oxford, UK, said if
    the ripping of the crust continued, the horn of Africa would eventually
    split off from the rest of the continent, in about a million years.”We
    think if these processes continue, a new ocean will eventually form,”
    he told the BBC News website. “It will connect to the Red Sea and the
    ocean will flow in.”

    Fundamental processes
    Dr Wright is a
    member of a team from the UK and Ethiopia that has been monitoring the
    creation of the new ocean basin; a rare event on dry land.They used
    sensitive seismic instruments, field measurements and satellite images
    from the European Space Agency’s Envisat spacecraft to study what is
    happening beneath the ground.”We’ve been able to work up all the
    satellite data and get a very precise map,” said Dr Wright.”It’s the
    biggest rifting episode at least since the 1970s and possibly in
    hundreds of years.”It’s the first time we’ve been able to use satellite
    images to investigate the fundamental processes behind rifting.”The
    shift in the Earth’s plates has been happening gradually over the
    course of two million years but every now and again earthquakes and
    volcanic eruptions herald sudden break-ups.

    Space techniques
    such event took place in September last year, opening up a 60km-long
    (37 mile) stretch of a fault-line that runs from Ethiopia to the
    southern edge of the Red Sea.”It’s amazing,” said Cindy Ebinger, from
    Royal Holloway, University of London.”It’s the first large event we
    have seen like this in a rift zone since the advent of some of the
    space-based techniques we’re now using.”These techniques give us a
    resolution and a detail to see what’s really going on and how the Earth
    processes work.”Scientists have calculated that 2.5 cubic km (0.6 cubic
    mile) of magma has flowed up through the crack in the Earth’s crust.It
    is enough to fill London’s Wembley stadium 2,000 times or smother the
    area within the capital’s M25 orbital motorway with molten rock to a
    depth of 1m (1 yard).