The movement of tectonic plates is slowly separating the African continent into several blocks of various sizes, a new study points out. These developments will redefine the future of Africa and the Indian Ocean.
The research, led by geoscientist Sarah Stamps of Virginia Tech University, revealed that the continent is splitting along the East African Rift. Madagascar, the island on the southeast coast of the mainland, will also be divided into smaller parts.
This break-up is a continuation of the divergence of the supercontinent Pangaea, which began about 200 million years ago. The process, the investigation reveals, will not happen anytime soon.
“The rate of present-day break-up is millimeters per year, so it will be millions of years before new oceans start to form”Stamps said, explaining that the extension rate is higher in the northern region of the continent, that’s where the new bodies of water will form first.
According to the scientist, most of the previous studies suggested that the extension, that is, the stretching of the earth’s crust, is located in narrow zones around microplates that move independently of the larger surrounding tectonic plates. However, new high-precision data from surface movements in East Africa, Madagascar, and several islands in the Indian Ocean reveal that the breaking process is more complex and more distributed than previously thought.
The new study found that, in one of the regions, the extension is spread over an area about 600 kilometers wide, stretching from East Africa to parts of Madagascar. This island is actively separating. Its southern part is moving with the Lwandle microplate, while a central part is moving with the Somali plate, the study noted.
The new findings help geoscientists understand the recent and ongoing seismic and volcanic activity occurring on the Comoros islands, located in the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, the research provides a reference for future studies of global tectonic plate motions and the forces that drive them.