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Sunday, April 8, 2018

The famous Africa crack

Por Feco

Along several kilometers, crossing fields, cracking roads and piercing the Masai Mara reserve, the opening has alarmed the locals and caused some stir on international media. There are those who say that the African continent is splitting in two. And they are not wrong, but there are still a few million years left for that to happen.

The crack in the earth is a reminder that the Earth is a planet in motion. The earth's surface is cracked like an old frame in several tectonic plates that, in their friction, unleash phenomena such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, lift mountains and open valleys. That same movement makes each plate also unstable. In the case of the eastern region of the African plate, the constant collision with the Arabian and Indian plates, which push from the north, is breaking the eastern portion of the African continent.

Its most visible manifestation is the Great Rift Valley, a broad strip of land that runs from Mozambique, to the south, to the horn of Africa and beyond. "Underneath there is a fault in the terrain that is separating Africa in two", says the professor of the Department of Geodynamics at the University of Granada, Juan Ignacio Soto. But the time of the separation is geological, it will take millions of years. "We know what will happen, but not when," he adds. To a certain extent, it is the inverse process to that which produces mountain ranges such as the Himalayas or the Andes. While these are raised by the clash of two plates that converge, in this valley, they are separating.

These geological processes are slow for human chronology. "Sometimes they separate a few millimeters and many others the fracture occurs in the interior without us seeing it", explains the professor. In others, like this time, the crack is superficial and meters wide. "What is striking is the length of this," he adds. Although it should be confirmed, it is suggested that the rains would have widened the magnitude of the gap. The African plate is being divided into two new ones, the Nubian and the Ethiopian. It will not be the last time it happens. Under the earth there is a process of dividing the African plate into two new ones, the Nubia to the west and the Ethiopian to the east.

It is that same process that is behind some of the wonders of this part of Africa. The Great Rift Valley is actually formed under several fractures of the earth's crust. Above, the Albertine Rift corresponds to the East African Rift. The set of valleys on the faults has an extension of about 5,000 kilometers. Along the fractures are the main African volcanoes. The great lakes, from the Victoria to the Tanganyika, passing through the Turkana or the Natron, are due to the presence of these faults. And thanks to them, this area is also the region with the largest portion of biodiversity left on the planet. At some point, maybe 50 million years from now, there will be two Africas, but not yet.