Africa Rapidly Breaking in Two
Quakes widen fissure at rarely-seen speed: scientists
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Jan 21, 2011 9:55 AM CST
The Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia erupts in this screen grab from University of Bristol video.   (University of Bristol video)

(Newser) – Africa is gradually breaking apart—and in the past several months, the process has accelerated. Now, amid earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, it’s happening exceptionally quickly, reports Der Spiegel. Water is threatening to flood a fracture between Ethiopia and Mozambique, scientists say; while it will be millions of years before that happens, the northern portion of the Great Rift Valley faces a much more immediate risk.

Low, 80-foot hills are the only thing holding back the Red Sea in the portion of the valley known as the Danakil Depression. No one knows when water could overtake them, but when the process begins, “the hills could sink in a matter of days,” notes a researcher. A few years ago, scientists detected shifts of just millimeters yearly; now, “the earth is opening up by the meter,” says an expert—and it’s happening over an area bigger than anyone thought.