Following large amounts of heavy rainfall in south-western Kenya, an enormous crack has appeared in the region. Scientists predict that this could be the start of an eventual breaking up of the African continent.
On the morning of the 19th March 2018, a huge crack appeared in the middle of the Mahiu-Narok road in Kenya. Almost 15 metres deep and running for more than 1.8 miles, the incredible fissure comes as a result of abundant heavy rainfall that recently hit the country.
According to geologists, it’s likely that this fissure had existed for some time before and was filled with volcanic ash from the nearby Mount Longonot. The rainwater would then have flushed out the ashes thus revealing the gigantic hole in the earth. In any case, this huge break in the earth’s crust could very well mark the start of a more spectacular phenomenon: the separation of Africa.
Frequent activity, witnessing profound changes
This was not the first time the Mahiu Narok road has caused problems. ‘There seems to be a weakness in the area’ said Julius Korir, head of infrastructure. Once again, the road has since been refilled to allow the flow of traffic to return. However, that solution may not be the most efficient in the long run.
This has happened before
The Earth’s lithosphere is made up of the crust and the upper mantle of our planet. This structure is divided up into many tectonic plates that move relative to each other. The forces behind these movements can also cause some plates to rupture and create new islands, drifting from the asthenosphere.
‘When the lithosphere is subjected to a force of horizontal extension, it stretches and becomes thinner and this eventually leads to a rupture, resulting in the forming of the Rift Valley. This process is accompanied by a greater volcanic and seismic activity and as time goes on, it can lead to the formation of oceans.
This is exactly what happened about 138 million years ago when Africa and America split up to create the Atlantic Ocean. It is also what is happening in the Rift Valley, a geological ensemble spanning nearly 1,865 miles between the near East and southern Africa. The Rift Valley is splitting Africa in half leaving the Nubian plate on one side and the Somali plate on the other.
Africa will eventually be divided
Starting about 20 million years ago, this rifting (tearing of the earth’s crust) could well lead to individualisation of the Somali plate. In short, Africa could be divided in two. This geological activity ‘became evident when the large crack suddenly appeared in south-western Kenya’ said, Perez Diaz.
The weakening of the lithosphere in that region was caused by plumes of magma below the surface. The pressure of the rising magma presses against the lithosphere and this combined with the immense heat, causes the crust to weaken. As it gets weaker, it starts to stretch and eventually will lead to rupture.
Currently, it’s difficult to say whether the crack that had appeared in Kenya was a direct result of this rifting. It could also be related to the volcanic activity of the region, which itself stems from the rifting process. In any case, the breaking up of Africa is expected only in the next tens of millions of years.