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Earth Science

Giant Rift In Africa Will Create a New Ocean 168

Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers at the University of Rochester believe that a 35-mile rift in the desert of Ethiopia will likely become a new ocean in a million years or so, connecting the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. Using newly gathered seismic data, researchers have reconstructed how the rift tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. Dabbahu, a volcano at the northern end of the rift, erupted first, then magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began 'unzipping' the rift in both directions. 'We know that seafloor ridges are created by a similar intrusion of magma into a rift, but we never knew that a huge length of the ridge could break open at once like this,' says Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester. The results show that highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of in bits, as the leading theory had previously held. The sudden large-scale events pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events."
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Giant Rift In Africa Will Create a New Ocean

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  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:11AM (#29962420) Homepage Journal

    BUY beachfront property NOW!

    After a while* you'll be sitting on a goldmine!

    (* definition of "while" might be different in your state)

    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )
      And look forward to sitting on the ocean-front and using a laptop running the stable release version of HURD.
    • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @09:08AM (#29962902)

      If everybody had an ocean
      Across the desert sands,
      Then everybody'd be surfin'
      Like Ethiop-I-A
      You'd see 'em wearin' their baggies
      Huarachi sandals, too
      A bushy bushy blonde hairdo
      Surfin' Africa.

      • In order to get the rhyme and meter to work, I'd change "Ethiopia" to "Ethiopians". Other than that, well done, sir!

    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      BUY beachfront property NOW!

      After a while* you'll be sitting on a goldmine!

      There was a documentary [] on this business strategy a while ago.

    • by ozbird ( 127571 )
      Right... With the bandits, pirates and other assorted villainry in the area, you could build your own replica of Mos Eisley.
  • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:12AM (#29962426) Journal

    Nothing to see here folks... move along. Come back in a million years or so.

    What's next? Another story about Duke Nukem Forever?

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by gmuslera ( 3436 )
      Considering that both events will happen approximately at the same year, yes, would be stuff that matters here.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by SEWilco ( 27983 )
      Why so disparaging? You're not interested in breaking news?
    • Actually, DNF is really really really officially dead. I have a screenshot from the model and lighting guys from right before they turned off the lights and closed down the offices. It's really sad.

    • Pfft, a million years? Clearly these are the birth pangs of the cataclysm of 2012.

  • Swallowing up thousands of hectares of the English countryside! With no warning! On the Most Dangerous Cheesiest Night on Television!

  • There is a theory that the flood story of Noah is based on the actual deluge which created the Black Sea.

    Before the Flood, this area was simply a low-lying area, but approximately 5000 years ago waters from the Mediterranean Sea spilled over the Bosporus and rapidly filled the Black Sea area within days. The massive influx of water wiped out many local civilizations and probably gave rise to the Flood legend.

    If this rift is going to become a new ocean, the water must come from somewhere. If it all comes at

    • by pe1rxq ( 141710 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:26AM (#29962552) Homepage Journal

      Except that it didn't happen in just a few days....
      It is still a nice theory though... just not as dramatic.
      Another nice theory is that the 'flood' was just a local one.
      Not so long ago the world ended at the horizon for most people since they never traveled far from home.
      And since a lot of civilizations started in river deltas (which tend to flood now and then) it is not a surprise that many religions contain some flooding in their myths.

      • by slim ( 1652 ) <> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:40AM (#29962662) Homepage

        Except that it didn't happen in just a few days....

        There are fairly mainstream theories that as the Ice Age ended, ice deposits in the Arctic melted into enormous lakes. Really enormous lakes. All that was holding this water in was ice. When finally the ice holding all this water in melted and cracked, all that water was released in a sudden catastrophic event. Rivers to dwarf anything we have today. Sea levels globally rising by several metres, in a matter of days.

        I was always dubious about the idea that a gradual rise in sea levels would result in all those deluge myths worldwide (Atlantis, Cantre'r Gwaelod, Noah, etc.). I'm much more convinced if it can be sudden. That would certainly enter into oral history.

        Unfortunately the best source I can offer right now is the Beringia Museum in Whitehorse, British Columbia. A bit of a trek for most people. I guess if I were to Google a bit I could find something online, but hey, I ain't gonna.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @09:22AM (#29963070)

          The geologic evidence is pretty clear that these huge "Missoula Floods" repeatedly blew through the southeast quadrant of Washington State, sometimes covering about a third of the state.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by alen ( 225700 )

          there was an 1800's geologist in the US who studied strange markings on the great plains. his theory was that at the end of the last ice age the ice burst and a huge avalanche of water hit the ground going so fast that it created water tornadoes that tore up the ground. the kids cartoon Ice Age copied his theory

          • by JerkBoB ( 7130 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @09:43AM (#29963298)

            I believe you might be referring to the Channeled Scablands [] in Washington State? I remember seeing a documentary about that. Interesting stuff. The research happened a bit later than the 1800s, unless you're referring to something else. More pictures and information [].

            • by Chyeld ( 713439 )

              PBS had a fairly (to my laymen eyes) informative and accessible NOVA [] episode concerning the megaflood.

        • by Malc ( 1751 )

          Isn't Whitehorse in the Yukon territory, not BC?

        • Whitehorse, Yukon (Score:3, Informative)

          by justthinkit ( 954982 )
          Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon territory, that borders the northern part of British Columbia and borders the eastern part of Alaska. [map []]
          • by slim ( 1652 )

            As I followed up another correction - my mistake.

            If it's any consolation, I bloody loved Yukon.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by the_arrow ( 171557 )

          Yeah, I saw a movie about this once. Ice Age 2 I think it was called...

        • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

          No, the GP is entirely correct.

          Atlantis was a story made up by Plato in his dialogs to make a rhetorical point. It doesn't even qualify as a "myth". Either way, its story bears no resemblance whatsoever to the story of Noah (other than there was water involved I suppose). That Welsh myth might be similar to Plato's story, but that means it also bears no resemblance whatsoever to Noah's flood.

          There are some similarities between the Jewish flood myth and the Sumerian one. However, the two peoples lived aw

          • by slim ( 1652 )

            Oh, and all these stories are myths. They aren't history.

            What's suggested is that they're myths grounded in events that happened at some point in human history. If the sea level rose suddenly, there would, 50 years later, be *lots* of old people telling rapt children "We had a big settlement, but one day there was a great flood, and now that settlement is under the sea".

            Over centuries, you'd get embellishments to make the fully formed myths that exist to this day.

            I take your point about Plato and Atlantis, although I suspect he'd have been informed by an existing

        • If you're talking about the Missoula Floods, they couldn't have contributed "several meters" of sea level rise. Lake Missoula only had a volume of about 2200 cubic kilometers. The Greenland ice sheet (2.8 million cubic kilometers) is thought to hold an extra 7 meters worth of sea level. Using that scaling factor and ignoring density differences between water and ice, that works out to about 0.5 centimeters of potential sea level rise from Lake Missoula. And it's also contested whether the whole lake coul

        • Actually, in my other comment [] I completely forgot about Meltwater Pulse 1A, about 14,500 years ago. Like the last interglacial event I mentioned, MP 1A also had average sea level rise rates of 4-5 centimeters per year, except it was sustained for 500 years instead of 50.

          Again, though, it wasn't a few-day deluge.

        • I found this paper [] which suggests 1.4 meters of sea level rise over 500-600 years 8500 years ago, the largest freshwater pulse into the North Atlantic in 100,000 years. However, some parts of that rise were rapid and they calculate that it could have caused massive flooding around the Black and Mediterranean Seas over a period of 120 years. I wonder if that's fast enough, recent enough, and global enough to account for global flood myths. The worst effects were localized around the Black Sea which would

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        If an 5 megaton underground text explosion can create a new lake, what could a massive volcanic eruption do:

        Cannikin test []

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Enleth ( 947766 )

      It's going to be even more interesting than that. The area is reatively close to the shore, and the pit is actually volcanic. Guess what happens when a big mass of water spills over and enters the pit.. Well, it's a shame this is Ethiopia and not Nigeria, because if it were the latter, it would be raining scammers after the massive steam explosion that is bound to happen there...

    • If it all comes at once, we could see a massive loss of life and property, especially as the problematic area lies in some of the poorest parts of the globe. In another 5000 years, we could be debating if the Savior Adibi Christ walked with elephants!

      Except this is forecast to happen in roughly a million years time, so really you would say that in 1,000,500 years there might be such debates, if we haven't been wiped out by a comet, or zombies, or all gone to live on Mars. And, of course, you're also assuming that in a million years this sea will be "in some of the poorest parts of the globe". Not sure how you can look so far ahead...

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      People have read the Sumerian version, we don't have to try putting it all in a modern context where "the entire world" has a functionally completely different meaning to what it meant to people at the time. Like a lot of the Bible it's a good story in there to make a point, but unfortunately people entirely miss the point and go after minor bits of the story.
    • by rossdee ( 243626 )

      I heard it was a bit further back than 5000 years ago, butit still gave rise to all of the Flood legends.
      In addition to the rise in water level, the new water was salty, so the fish that were in the lake and the plants would have died too. The (human) survivors of the even would have had to migrate quite a ways to find somewhere else to live, spreading the story with them.

      (The story of Atlantis however probably was due to the Thera/Santorini eruption.

    • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @09:52AM (#29963408)

      There is a theory that the flood story of Noah is based on the actual deluge which created the Black Sea.

      No, the flood story of Noah is based on the Sumerian story of Utnapishtim. The Sumerian story of Utnapishtim may be based on the Black Sea (or even Mediterranian) inundation, but the Noah story is just a copy of the Sumerian story, with all the roles of the various Sumerian gods subsumed by a rather confused and contradictory Hebrew god.

      Given the Sumerians were a river culture (think about what "Mesopotamia" means) it is at least as plausible that the Sumerian flood story, which is what the biblical flood story is based on, arose from plausible fears of a great innundation, much as zombie stories arise today from a plausible fear of Republicans.

    • >If it all comes at once, we could see a massive loss of life and property, especially as the >problematic area lies in some of the poorest parts of the globe. New solution for poverty!
    • by Opyros ( 1153335 )
      This is the Black Sea deluge hypothesis [], originated by William Ryan and Walter Pitman []. (Although they argued that the Black Sea already existed before the flood, but was signinficantly smaller.) Incidentally, Orson Scott Card wrote a story [] which postulates that the Flood legends started with a prehistoric flood which filled the modern-day Red Sea.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RockDoctor ( 15477 )

      There is a theory that the flood story of Noah is based on the actual deluge which created the Black Sea.

      You've missed out the "discredited" in "a discredited theory".

      OK, that's maybe being a bit harsh on Ryan & Pitmann, whose ideas you refer to. Their theory was reasonable, plausible, and testable. It has been tested and found to be at the least flawed, if not completely unworkable. As I recall - and I'm only working from memory - one of the predictions of the Ryan/ Pitmann theory was that there would

  • the future is not much brighter

  • Ohmigod don't open the rift, captain ....

  • I would say that this doesn't really fall under the category of "stuff that matters".

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      The big news is that a 35 mile long section of the rift formed in days.
      • by Chyeld ( 713439 )

        Bigger news is that his anchor text for his link is 35 words long and happened in less than a day!

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          Bigger news is that his anchor text for his link is 35 words long and happened in less than a day!

          I know. In the past, scientists thought links of that length would take years to form. Our infrastructure is in so much peril!

        • by Kagura ( 843695 )

          Bigger news is that his anchor text for his link is 35 words long and happened in less than a day!

          Uh, the biggest news is that the event in question happened in 2005... the event is not new, but some additional rationale behind the ocean hypothesis is new.

  • by Fez ( 468752 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:24AM (#29962534)

    There's the answer to rising sea levels... Divert the water into what will eventually become an ocean basin anyway.

  • Poor Headline (Score:5, Informative)

    by dkf ( 304284 ) <> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:27AM (#29962564) Homepage

    The news is not that the East African rift will form a new ocean - that's been known for a few years - but that it can happen very quickly. A timescale of days for an event of that scale is really rather significant, since it means that if something like it were to happen anywhere near existing infrastructure, our ability to adapt to it would be extremely limited. Well, not until afterwards anyway.

    Another geographical blunder in the article is saying that the rift will connect the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. That's because they're already connected.

    • by jc42 ( 318812 )

      Another geographical blunder in the article is saying that the rift will connect the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. That's because they're already connected.

      Yeah; I was sorta wondering what map they're using. Another channel linking the Red Se and the Gulf of Aden wouldn't really do much to either of those bodies of water, though it might sorta change property values along the length of the rift.

      In any case, I've been noticing that we seem to have this sort of wide-eyed "OMG Africa is splitting apart and we

    • The news is not that the East African rift will form a new ocean - that's been known for a few years

      In order for an ocean to form, the plates on either side need to have somewhere to move to. That requires not only the local rift dynamics but also a shift in all the surrounding plates so they "get out of the way". I don't know of any evidence that this is happening. If others do, I'd be happy to have references.

      Similarly, the nearby Red Sea was able to start spreading because the plate to the north was being subducted near Iran. But since that subduction has likely stopped, it's questionable whether the R

  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:40AM (#29962660)
    Meanwhile, in deepest Africa....

    "M'gulu gulu mulugu lugulugu" (*)

    "lugulugu um'gulu lulu?"


    "gugu lulu gugu?"

    "gugu kaboom"

    (*) Translation:

    "There's something very important I forgot to tell you."


    "Don't cross the streams."


    "It would be bad."

  • Perhaps nature itself is tired of all the in-fighting and is simply dividing the region for them.

    On a more serious note, what could an ocean and life-giving water mean for a harsh region like this? Perhaps some prosperity in the form of much needed farm land.
    • Millions of Tonnes of Salt water .... would do very little

      The region in question is in places very low in population simply because it is a volcanic arid wasteland .... other parts however are lush and full of life which would be wiped out by this new ocean ...

      Rapid change on this scale is always bad news in the short term ... (short term measured in 1000's of years)

    • This comment might be insightful if this rift event was going to happen any time soon. As it stands, it's going to be millions of years before it happens. I bet by the time this happens the Somalis won't even live there anymore. In fact, there probably won't even BE a Somali people in a million years....much less a human race (at the pace we're going towards self-destruction).
  • by piotru ( 124109 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:43AM (#29962690) Homepage Journal

    Not every rift is going to become an ocean like Atlantic. Some fail, as did the rift under the Big Lakes. Correct my rusty geology if I'm wrong.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sort of...2 actually...

      From Wikipeida..

      "It has been estimated that the foundational geology which created the conditions shaping the present day upper Great Lakes was laid from 1.1 to 1.2 billion years ago,[4][8] when two previously fused tectonic plates split apart and created the Midcontinent Rift. A valley was formed providing a basin that eventually became modern day Lake Superior. When a second fault line, the Saint Lawrence rift, formed approximately 570 million years ago,[4] the basis for Lakes Ontar

      • The (scientifically abysmal, BTW) miniseries 10.5: Apocalypse [] ended with that rift cracking wide open, creating an inland sea running straight from South Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico. (This was a step up from the first miniseries, 10.5 [], which merely turned a chunk of southern California into an island. I suppose a followup about the breakup of Africa will be coming any season now....)
    • Not every rift is going to become an ocean like Atlantic. Some fail, as did the rift under the Big Lakes. Correct my rusty geology if I'm wrong.

      I live by the Great Lakes, and I have always understood that the lakes were carved out by glaciers during the last ice age. I've never heard this failed rift explanation. What's your source for this info?

      • by Knara ( 9377 )

        I happen to have taken a number of college level geology courses at University of Minnesota - Duluth. My memory is a little rusty, but it is indeed true that, at least in the case of Lake Superior, it's very obvious that the lake was created by magma subsidence. The basin still has magma tubes that lead to the lake (you can see them on the shore, as they erode much slower than the surrounding rock), and you can very easily see the igneous rock layers sloping (at remarkably steep angles) towards the lake b

        • by Knara ( 9377 )
          Oh, I forgot to mention, but you can see some pretty neat pillow lava formations sticking up from the foliage on the wide dividers between N and S-bound I-35 between Duluth and Minneapolis (prolly about 20-30 miles south of Duluth) if you know what you're looking for and where.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        It often takes several combined factors to form features like the great lakes. The glaciers played a huge role in shaping the landscape, but that's just on top of the rifting etc. I might mention also that the rifting stuff is limited to the western great lakes (particularly Superior) - lakes Erie and Ontario were formed essentially exclusively by glacial and other erosional processes. There has been a lot written on this topic - it's pretty interesting to read through the understood history of the region,

  • by Gorath99 ( 746654 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:49AM (#29962740)

    Researchers at the University of Rochester believe that a 35-mile rift in the desert of Ethiopia will likely become a new ocean in a million years or so, connecting the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden.

    Wow! This is a revolution []!

    • There was a bit missing....

      "..connecting the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden VIA A SECOND PATHWAY"

      A kind of Spanning-Sea protocol

      • by elnyka ( 803306 )
        I dunno, my geography might be rusty, but if and when the Rift goes split like Jenna Jameson, wouldn't that either simply create an inland sea going either inland into Mozambique or opening up again on the Indian Ocean (and south of Somalia), with either scenario starting off the Bab-el-Mandeb strait????? It kinda like doesn't look like creating a new pathway, but a widening of the strait basically merging the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden into a new and wider waterway?
      • by NotBornYesterday ( 1093817 ) * on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @10:15AM (#29963644) Journal
        Water views land as damage and routes around it.
  • Can't wait to see another Aussie-sounding infomercial guy selling you the one book on how to me a fuckzillion dollars in buying fixer-uppers for a fraction of a penny in the someday-to-be Ethiopian Riviera!
  • Land Before Time... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jamori ( 725303 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @10:10AM (#29963582)
    As a child, I had nightmares about the giant rifts dramatically opening in the ground like they did in the Land Before Time movie. I had since convinced myself this was unlikely to happen, and assuaged my fears.
    Thanks a lot, "Researchers at the University of Rochester"...
    • No need for nightmares. Africa isn't going to split up. It's just another one of those Godzilla type monsters breaking free. It should head over to Japan before starting its killing spree, with atomic bombs being dropped on it all along its path. Nothing to worry about at all.

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

      Maybe you'd seen "Crack in the World" []

      This was preceded by the Mohole project, []

      Of course, they are both wrong. Nope, when they drill too far, what'll happen? All the air will get out, and the world will go flat.

  • How many times is this going to be reposted?

  • The "basin and range" area in the USA is a slow tectonic spreading ridge. It has nearly doubled in width in the past 50 million years, resulting in down-dropped valleys and significant volcanism. Sometimes these spreading regions eventually stop as the tectonic plates alter configuration. Or they progress into full-fledged oceans.
    • The basin and range represents continental crustal extension, which is spread out across the entire region. This is more-or-less driven by pulling on either end. Actually, the driving forces are not completely understood (which is why I'm using "more-or-less" to describe these things).

      Oceanic crustal extension, on the other hand, is more-or-less being pushed apart from the center. So the rifting and so on is focused in one area - the rift zone. That's why the Mid Atlantic Ridge or the East African Rift - sp

  • ... to have some arms manufacturers try to sell Ethiopia equipment for a coast guard.

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