Can an ocean be born out of a desert? Scientists believe that is what they are witnessing in Ethiopia. In 2005, the 35-mile Ethiopian rift emerged from volcanic processes occurring under the earth’s surface. These processes mimic those found at the bottom of the ocean, and scientists believe it is “likely the beginning of a new sea“.
Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester, explains in Science Daily:
The whole point of this study is to learn whether what is happening in Ethiopia is like what is happening at the bottom of the ocean where it’s almost impossible for us to go. We knew that if we could establish that, then Ethiopia would essentially be a unique and superb ocean-ridge laboratory for us…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.
When the Ethiopian rift first occurred in 2005, scientists were amazed at the speed in which developed. In just three weeks, what was once thought to take millions of weeks happened. Starting with a series of earthquakes, the event “is said to be unprecedented in scientific history,” according to the BBC.
Researchers from across the world are studying the rift, which provides further evidence “Africa and Arabia are splitting apart“. In this rift, molten rock is rising creating a new ocean floor. What does this mean for Ethiopia, a country often plagued by drought caused famines. According to the Cleveland Leader:
None of the researchers expects that they will observe the separation of Ethiopia in their lifetimes. New seafloor creation happens over the course of millions of years, but they believe that one day Ethiopia and even parts of Kenya might one day become an island continent of its own.
I wonder how climate change factors into the scenario of a new ocean in Africa. Could rising sea levels provide the needed water to flood the ocean floor? Would rising surface temperatures from global warming create a warm inland sea? I guess we will have to wait millions of years to find out.