The African island nation of Madagascar will be splitting up into smaller islands as part of the geological changes occurring in the East African rift system that was previously thought to have spared the lands south of Mozambique.
Now, scientists from Madagascar, the United States as well as Portugal have found via new GPS data that the rift is probably wider, spanning some 600 kilometers, more than 370 miles, wide from the Afar region of Ethiopia to the main Madagascan island. Computer models showed that the whole area is gradually part of the rift that will unfold over several millions of years.
The Great Rift Valley, which is what the East African rift lies, is a continuous series of large trenches that starts in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon and travels more than 7,000 kilometers into East African territories at the mouth or in the Indian Ocean. In Kenya, where the rift is prominent, scientists have previously wondered whether they were witnessing the point at which the African continent itself would be splitting.
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Scientists theorize that the supercontinent they call Pangea is what continues to be split up in this 200 million-year-long process.
“The rate of present-day break-up is millimeters per year, so it will be millions of years before new oceans start to form. The rate of extension is fastest in the north, so we’ll see new oceans forming there first,” said Sarah Stamps, one of the researchers who is an assistant professor at Virginia Tech College of Science.
The landmass of Madagascar is thought to have torn away from the Indian subcontinent some 88 million years ago. Currently, the islands that constitute the nation sit on two tectonic plates, namely the Lwandle plate to the south and the Somali plate to the north.
Researchers found that the rift in the Indian ocean is happening while southern Madagascar is tearing with the Lwandle plate and the south-central and eastern parts of the island are moving with the Somali tectonic plate.
The ability to gauge the process of how the world continues to change through modern technology has been hailed in this process of mapping out the geological reformation of the earth.
Stamps added that the need to accurately define “plate boundaries and assessing if continents diverge along narrowly deforming zones or through wide zones of diffuse deformation is crucial to unraveling the nature of continental break-up.”