Date: Thursday, 19 April 2018
A MASSIVE chasm has appeared from nowhere and it is growing every day. Geologists say it is proof that Africa is splitting in two.
MASSIVE cracks are starting to appear in Kenya’s Rift Valley and they are growing longer and deeper by the day.
But as confused locals and visitors travel to catch a glimpse and pose for pictures at the deep chasm which has rocked a nearby small town to its core — geologists believe something significant is happening underneath their feet.
This is because they believe the huge fault line is evidence the African continent will split in two over the next tens of millions of years.
It became exposed for the first time after heavy rainfall in Kenya over the past month — which also caused hospital walls to collapse, flooded entire neighbourhoods, and closed off major highways.
The floodwaters created a rift stretching several kilometres near the town of Mai Mahiu in the Rift Valley, ripping a major highway open and creating a deep gully that sucked in cars, as well as devastating farmers’ land and homes.
According to Face2Face Africa, the tear in the earth is more than 15m deep and more than 15m wide weaving through the arable land in Narok County.
Experts say in about 50 million years, the African continent will split into two with the Somali tectonic plate which covers the Great Rift Valley — running from the Horn of Africa to Mozambique — separating itself from the rest of the continent which is known as the Nubian Plate or African Plate.
“The Great Rift splits Africa into two plates. With what is happening we have established one plate which is the Somali plate is moving away from the other plate at a rate of 2.5cm. In the near future if this happens we shall have the Somali plate separating from the other Nubian plate,” Kenyan geologist David Ahede told Kenya’s Daily Nation.
He said that movements have resulted in weaknesses and the weak zones form fault lines and fissures which are normally filled by volcanic ash, most likely from the nearby Mt Longonot.
“You cannot stop a geological process because it occurs from deep within the crust of the Earth,” he said.
According to a report last month in The Conversation by Dr Lucia Perez Diaz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Fault Dynamics Research Group at Royal Holloway, University of London, the rift has surfaced this month because the Earth is an ever-changing planet.
We might not notice these changes but, every now and again, something dramatic happens.
This is because of the Earth’s lithosphere (formed by the crust and the upper part of the mantle) is broken up into a number of tectonic plates.
“These plates are not static, but move relative to each other at varying speeds, ‘gliding’ over a viscous asthenosphere (which is the upper layer of the Earth’s mantle and below the lithosphere),” Dr Perez Diaz wrote.
“Exactly what mechanism or mechanisms are behind their movement is still debated, but are likely to include convection currents within the asthenosphere and the forces generated at the boundaries between plates.”
These forces do not simply move the plates around. They can also cause plates to rupture, forming a rift and potentially leading to the creation of new plate boundaries. The East African Rift system is an example of where this is currently happening.
WHY DO RIFTS FORM?
Ms Perez Diaz says that when the lithosphere is subject to a horizontal extensional force it will stretch, becoming thinner. Eventually, it will rupture, leading to the formation of a rift valley.
“This process is accompanied by surface manifestations along the rift valley in the form of volcanism and seismic activity,” she wrote.
“Rifts are the initial stage of a continental breakup and, if successful, can lead to the formation of a new ocean basin.”
She says an example of a place on Earth where this has happened is the South Atlantic Ocean, which resulted from the breakup of South America and Africa around 138 million years ago — ever noticed how their coastlines match like pieces of the same puzzle?
Continental rifting requires the existence of extensional forces great enough to break the lithosphere.