Is Africa Splitting? Unraveling the Possibility of a Divided Continent
Photo Credit: James Wiseman

Photo Credit: James Wiseman

Is Africa Splitting? Unraveling the Possibility of a Divided Continent

Africa , Uganda , Zambia , news
Brunno Braga
Brunno Braga May 31, 2023

Is Africa splitting and creating a new ocean and two new continents? This is what some scientists believe will happen in the future. According to the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters, a new ocean may emerge, dividing the African continent and providing access to the sea for formerly landlocked nations such as Uganda and Zambia. Because of the East African Rift System’s ongoing tectonic activity, the Horn of Africa might separate from the rest of the continent and develop its own ocean basin.

However, scientists warn that this process is expected to take millions of years. Nonetheless, recent seismic data published in Geophysical Research Letters support the possibility of these ongoing tectonic processes leading to the formation of a new body of water.

How is Africa splitting? According to scientists, the East African Rift, which emerged around 35 million years ago, plays a significant role in initiating this process. Stretching approximately 2,000 miles from the Red Sea to Mozambique, this rift marks the initial stages of a potential new sea formation. It occurs at the convergence point of the African Nubian, African Somali, and Arabian tectonic plates, which have been gradually moving apart over time.

In an interview with NBC News, Christopher Moore, a geologist from the University of Leeds, emphasizes the unique scientific research opportunities provided by the East African Rift. He highlights its significance as an intriguing subject for scientific investigation, as it offers a chance to study the transition from a continental rift to an oceanic rift. Understanding these geological processes can greatly advance our knowledge of Earth’s dynamics and help us comprehend the formation of new ocean basins.

Africa Splitting: Evidence of the Tectonic Movement in the Region

The formation of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden between East Africa and Western Asia provides evidence of the impact of tectonic movement in the region. These bodies of water have formed due to the ongoing separation of the Arabian and African plates. GPS monitoring confirms that the Arabian plate is gradually moving away from the African plate at a rate of approximately one inch per year. This continuous separation highlights the prolonged nature of the process and the potential for forming new oceans.

Ken Macdonald, a scientist and professor emeritus of marine geophysics at the University of California, believes the increasing availability of GPS measurements will provide valuable insights into the dynamics between the Arabian and African plates. As our understanding of these geological processes expands, scientists can make more accurate predictions and analyses regarding the future formation of the new ocean.

“With GPS measurements, you can measure rates of movement down to a few millimeters per year,” Macdonald told NBC. “As we get more and more measurements from GPS, we can get a much greater sense of what’s going on.”

Formation of a New Ocean

Macdonald suggests that the eventual merging of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden will likely result in the formation of a new ocean, encompassing the East African Rift Valley and the Afar region. If this event occurs, it will reshape the geographical and environmental landscape of Africa, creating new opportunities for economic growth and international trade. Because landlocked countries like Uganda and Zambia would suddenly gain coastlines, they may potentially benefit from increased trade and economic opportunities associated with having a coastline.

While the formation of a new ocean in East Africa remains a distant possibility, the ongoing tectonic activity and the evidence provided by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden offer intriguing insights into the geological processes shaping our planet. Is Africa splitting? The question remains. However, some scientists continue to study and monitor the East African Rift System, collecting data and refining their understanding of this complex phenomenon.

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