A new ocean is forming in East Africa

In the deserts of Ethiopia, a gigantic crack is forming in the earth. It will eventually split completely, creating a new ocean that alters the geopolitical and economic sphere of the region.

Thred Media
3 min readFeb 23, 2024

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Though we may not notice it, our planet is moving and changing all the time. In fact, since Earth first formed it’s been in a constant — albeit slow — state of flux.

You’re likely familiar with the map of Pangea, a period when all of the world’s current continents were cozied up and squished together. These landmasses drifted apart over the course of millions of years and continue to move slowly as we speak.

This is all thanks to the Earth’s tectonic plates, which float on top the sludge-like mantle beneath them. On average, they shift toward and away from each other at a rate of about 1.5 centimeters every year.

In the deserts of Ethiopia, big changes have been occurring between two of the earth’s major plates — The Somalian tectonic plate and the Nubian tectonic plate.

They are separating from each other, resulting in the formation of a 35 mile long crack named the East African Rift. It stretches through the vast deserts of Ethiopia and Kenya and is considered one of the most geologically monumental events to occur for hundreds of millions of years.

What does this mean for the future of the region?

When the plates finally separate from one another, a new ocean will form.

A study conducted at the University of California predicts that this new body of water will form when the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea floods over the Afar region and into the East African Rift Valley.

This will change the ecology of the region massively. Now dominated by arid desert land, the ocean will welcome into it all kinds of marine life and create new coastal communities.

Life for humans living in Ethiopia and Kenya will also be transformed. There will be new economic opportunities and industries that arise from the changed landscape, along with challenges of living on an entirely new and separate continent.

While this would be an incredible event to witness, it is predicted to occur in 5 to 10 million years.

Still, the research conducted at the University of California stands as a reminder that our world is not static or eternal. We are living beings on a planet that is also alive, growing and changing according to its own calendar.

It’s interesting to remember that we are at the will of its shifts, which are predictable at times and wildly unpredictable during others.

Originally written by Jessica Byrne for Thred.

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