Violent Seismic Activity Tearing Africa in Two

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Axel Bojanowski
Spiegel

The fissures began appearing years ago. But in recent months, seismic activity has accelerated in northeastern Africa as the continent breaks apart in slow motion. Researchers say that lava in the region is consistent with magma normally seen on the sea floor — and that water will ultimately cover the desert.

Cynthia Ebinger, a geologist from the University of Rochester in New York, could hardly believe what the caller from the deserts of Ethiopia was saying. It was an employee at a mineralogy company — and he reported that the famous Erta Ale volcano in northeastern Ethiopia was erupting. Ebinger, who has studied the volcano for years, was taken aback. The volcano’s crater had always been filled with a bubbling soup of silver-black lava, but it had been decades since its last eruption.

The call came last November. And Ebinger immediately flew to Ethiopia with some fellow researchers. “The volcano was bubbling over; flaming-red lava was shooting up into the sky,” Ebinger told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The earth is in upheaval in northeastern Africa, and the region is changing quickly. The desert floor is quaking and splitting open, volcanoes are boiling over, and seawaters are encroaching upon the land. Africa, researchers are certain, is splitting apart at a rate rarely seen in geology.

The first fracture appeared millions of years ago, resulting in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The second fracture, stretching south from Ethiopia to Mozambique, is known as the Great Rift Valley, and it is lined with several volcanoes. Millions of years from now, it too will be filled with seawater.

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