Death of a Continent, Birth of an Ocean

Africa’s Afar region gives glimpses of geology in action

By Alexandra Witze, 10:45 AM June 16, 2011

To those who live there, east Africa’s Afar region is “the place the devil plows.” One of the hottest and lowest areas on Earth, it is a landscape of baking desert and barren lava flows. To scientists, though, Afar means something more promising: geology in the raw.

There, on the edge of Africa, the continent is splitting apart. Pulled inexorably by the grind of tectonic plates, Afar is ripping asunder like a gateway to hell. Molten rock wells up from below, pouring onto the sweltering surf...

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