Scientists: Africa desert could become sea

Nov. 3, 2009 at 10:17 PM
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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- A 35-mile-long rift in the desert of Ethiopia could rip open, creating a new sea in just days, scientists say.

Researchers from the University of Rochester in New York, along with colleagues from the United States, Britain, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France and Yemen, say they've confirmed the volcanic activity beneath the rift, discovered in 2005, is nearly identical to that at the bottom of the world's oceans. That, they said in an article on the University of Rochester Web site, means the rift is likely the beginning of a new sea.

"Seafloor ridges are made up of sections, each of which can be hundreds of miles long," said Cindy Ebinger, a professor of earth and environmental sciences and co-author of the study. "Because of this study, we now know that each one of those segments can tear open in just a few days."

She warned a sudden large-scale event could pose a very serious hazard to people living near the rift.

Ken Macdonald, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California in Santa Barbara, who was not affiliated with the research, said the scientists' work, published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, is a "breakthrough in our understanding of continental rifting leading to the creation of new ocean basins."

Ebinger and her colleagues are continuing to monitor the region.

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