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Red Sea crack could herald in formation of new ocean

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I thought this was interisting

Posted on : Fri, 21 Jul 2006 01:04:00 GMT | Author : Jack Myers

Satellite images show that the Red Sea is parting again, however it's nothing to do with Moses this time around. Scientists report in the latest issue of the journal Nature that the Arabian tectonic plate and the African plate are slowly, but surely parting ways, thus stretching Earth's crust.

These movements are also widening the southern end of the Red Sea. Scientists estimate that the movement began occurring last September when a series of earthquakes began to split Earth's surface near Afar, Ethiopia. This 37-mile section of the East African Rift was visible on satellite images from the European Space Agency's Envisat spacecraft.

Scientists also speculate that if the crack reaches Red Sea then a new Ocean could be carved up separating Eritrea and part of Ethiopia from the African continent. The research team led by Cindy Ebinger of Royal Holloway and Tim Wright of Oxford have studied the crack in the Afar fault since September. A volcanic eruption also took place during the time and scientists said that the torn parts of the rift were filling up with magma. This magma will form the floor of a new ocean or sea when it eventually hardens.

"It's the first large event we have seen like this in a rift zone since the advent of some of the space-based techniques we're now using," Dr Ebinger said. "These techniques give us a resolution and a detail to see what's really going on and how the earth processes work. The Afar region provides a unique study area for continental break-up and formation of new ocean basins."

"We think that the crust and mantle melt slowly at depths greater than 10 kilometers [6 miles], where it is hotter, forming magma," said Tim J Wright, study co-author.. "This magma rises through the crust because it is less dense than the surrounding rock.” When this magma builds up with enough pressure, then the scientists estimate that it will dictate the process of the widening crack. "Slowly, the pressure has been building up in these chambers until last September when it finally cracked, breaking the crust along a vertical crack. The magma was then injected into this crack," Wright confirmed.

The widening cracks offer an opportunity to observe the whole process in real time.



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