How continents do the splits

African study reveals how land gives way to ocean crust

By Alexandra Witze, 15:13 PM March 11, 2011

Breaking up is easy to do, if you’re East Africa. Researchers have discovered new details of how the Earth’s continental crust is tearing apart in Ethiopia, which will one day give birth to a new ocean.

In the final throes of breakup, it turns out, the crust thins dramatically, allowing a flood of magma to rise from deep in the Earth and erupt onto the surface, the scientists report online March 13 in Nature Geoscience. The work reveals how an old continent gives way to a young ocean.

“It ...

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