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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The World Is Changing

Really. Not just politically, or economically, or socially. I'm talking about the actual earth. A new ocean looks to be forming in north eastern Ethiopia's Afar desert region. Seriously. There's a huge crack developing that has all the earmarks of the beginning stages of an ocean's birth ("a 3,500-kilometer-long zone of tectonic turmoil that is tearing the continent in two"). BBC breaks it down:

The UK-Ethiopian group says it was astonished at the speed with which the 60km-long fissure system developed.

"It's the first large event we've seen like this in a rift zone since the advent of some of the space-based techniques we're now using, and which give us a resolution and a detail to see what's really going on and how the earth processes work; it's amazing," said Cindy Ebinger, from Royal Holloway University of London.

...

In the far-distant past, oceans such as the Atlantic have formed when supercontinents have torn apart.

Indeed, North America and Europe are still moving in opposite directions at about the pace fingernails grow.

Researchers have long recognised that the Afar region, an inhospitable depression in north-eastern Ethiopia, has been contorted by similar forces in recent geological time.

But the event in September is said to be unprecedented in scientific history.

It began with a large earthquake on the 14th of the month and continued with a swarm of moderate tremors.

...

"About a week into the sequence, there was a volcanic eruption," explained Dr Ebinger.

"A lot of ash was thrown up in the air, and a lot of cracks appeared in the ground; some of which were more than a metre wide.

"Using satellite techniques we can see ground deformation, and about a month after the sequence, we could see a 60km long section had opened up, and it opened up about 8m in its central part.

"It appears that we've seen the birth of an ocean basin."

The movements of September are only a small part of what would be needed to create a whole ocean - the complete process takes millions of years - and in other regions of the planet, ocean development has been started only to stall at a later time.

But the Afar event has given geologists a unique opportunity to study the rupture process at close quarters.

So cool. Check out a slideshow here.

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