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In the remote Afar depression in northern Ethiopia, the African Continent is slowly splitting apart and a new ocean is forming. Normally geological processes such as the formation of rivers, seas and mountains is a painfully slow process, but in the Afar Triangle near the Horn of Africa, this is happening at a staggering rate.

In 2005, an eruption at the Dabbahu volcano followed by a period of intense seismic activity started a crack on the earth’s crust that rapidly propagated south like a zipper opening. The fissure was 60 km long and 8 meters wide, while the ground between them sank by 2 meter. All this happened in a matter of days. Over the course of the next few months, hundreds of crevices were seen splitting in the desert floor and the ground slumped by as much as 100 meters. At the same time, scientists observed magma rising from deep below as it began to form what will eventually become a basalt ocean floor.

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A 500-meters long volcanic vent that opened on September 26, 2006. Photo credit: Julie Rowland, University of Auckland.

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