Volcanic Rift in Ethiopian Desert Confirmed As Beginning of New Sea

dabbahu fissure ethiopia image

photo: © thebigmonkey via flickr.

A 35-mile long volcanic rift in the Ethiopian desert that opened up back in 2005 has been confirmed as likely being the beginning of a new sea. That's the word from an international team of scientists, whose work has been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters: The rift began when Mount Dabbahu erupted, for the first time in recorded history, and in a matter of just three weeks spread to up to 25' wide along a fault line in the Afar desert. Heading towards the Red Sea, it could eventually split off Eritrea, Djibouti and part of Ethiopia from the rest of the continent.

mount dabbahu map image

The location of the start of the rift is marked as 'A' in this image from Google Maps.

Rather than opening up in a series of small earthquakes, magma was pushed up in the middle of the rift and the whole thing began "unzipping" in either direction.

Report co-author Cindy Ebinger of the University of Rochester said, "We know that seafloor ridges are created by 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."

In all, the processes at work here are "nearly identical to those at the bottom of the world's oceans" the report said.

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