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The great rift: Africa’s splitting plates could give birth to a new ocean, but with consequences

GS Paper 1

Syllabus: Geography – Geomorphology


Source: DTE

Context: Scientists, in 2020, predicted a new ocean would be created as Africa gradually splits into two separate parts. 

  • The division of the continent is connected to the East African Rift, which appeared in the desert of Ethiopia in 2005, triggering the formation of a new sea.

About rifting:

  • Rifting refers to the geological process in which a single tectonic plate is split into two or more plates separated by divergent plate boundaries.
  • This process leads to the emergence of a lowland region known as a rift valley, which can occur either on land or at the bottom of the ocean. These rift valleys occur due to the movement of Earth’s tectonic plates.


What is happening in Africa?

  • The three platesthe Nubian African Plate, Somalian African Plate and Arabian Plate — are separating at different speeds.
  • The Arabian Plate is moving away from Africa at a rate of about an inch per year, while the two African plates are separating even slower.
  • As the Somali and Nubian tectonic plates continue to pull apart from each other, a smaller continent will be created from the rift, which will include present-day Somalia and parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.
  • This new ocean will result in East Africa becoming a separate small continent with its own unique geographic and ecological characteristics.


Challenges and consequences of this rifting: 

  • Displacement of communities, settlements and various flora and fauna.
  • Impact their habitats due to climate change, resulting in environmental degradation.
  • Rapid urbanisation and increased settlements will put pressure on natural resources, leading to a scarcity of water, energy and food.
  • Uncontrolled waste disposal.
  • Some species will disappear, while others will become endangered due to habitat changes.