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A huge rip in the ground has scientists suggesting Africa is starting to split in two

Ben Graham, April 19, 2018 7:32PM

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In this photograph taken on April 6, 2018, people walk past a deep chasm in the earth in the Rift Valley, Kenya. Picture: AFP media_cameraIn this photograph taken on April 6, 2018, people walk past a deep chasm in the earth in the Rift Valley, Kenya. Picture: AFP


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Massive cracks are appearing in a valley in Kenya leading some scientists to suggest it could be the start of Africa splitting in two.

The rips in the earth in the Rift Valley are growing longer and deeper by the day.

But as confused locals and visitors travel to look at the split and pose for pictures, geologists* believe something significant is happening underneath their feet.

They believe the huge fault line* is evidence the African continent* will break apart over the next tens of millions of years.

It became exposed for the first time after heavy rainfall in Kenya in the past month — which also caused hospital walls to collapse, flooded entire neighbourhoods, and closed off major highways.

The floodwaters created a split stretching several kilometres near the town of Mai Mahiu, ripping a major highway open and creating a deep gully* that sucked in cars, as well as devastating farmers’ land and homes.

According to media company Face2Face Africa, the tear in the earth is more than 15m deep and more than 15m wide weaving through farming land in Narok County.

Experts say that in about 50 million years, the African continent will split into two with the Somali tectonic plate* which covers the Great Rift Valley — running from the Horn of Africa to Mozambique — separating itself from the rest of the continent which is known as the Nubian Plate or African Plate.

“The Great Rift splits Africa into two plates. With what is happening we have established one plate which is the Somali plate is moving away from the other plate at a rate of 2.5cm. In the near future if this happens we shall have the Somali plate separating from the other Nubian plate,” Kenyan geologist David Ahede told Kenya’s Daily Nation.

“You cannot stop a geological process because it occurs from deep within the crust of the Earth,” he said.

Continental drift on the planet Earth. Pangaea, Laurasia, Gondwana, modern continents media_cameraThree drawings of the Earth showing the movement of land due to continental drift.

Dr Lucia Perez Diaz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Fault Dynamics Research Group at Royal Holloway, University of London, said the rift has surfaced this month because the Earth is an ever-changing planet.

She said we might not notice these changes but, every now and again, something dramatic happens.

“Rifts are the initial stage of a continental breakup and, if successful, can lead to the formation of a new ocean basin*,” she wrote in a report for The Conversation.

She said an example of a place on Earth where this has happened is the South Atlantic Ocean, which resulted from the breakup of South America and Africa around 138 million years ago — ever noticed how their coastlines match like pieces of the same puzzle?

In this photograph taken on April 6, 2018, a man takes photograph of a deep chasm in the earth - which has appeared following heavy downpours of rain in March - near the town of Mai-Mahiu, Nakuru County in the Rift Valley, some 54kms (33.5 miles) south-west of Nairobi. / AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA media_cameraIn this photograph taken on April 6, 2018, a man takes a photograph of a deep chasm in the earth following heavy rain. Picture: AFP


geologists: experts who study the Earth and the rocks that its made of

fault line: a line on a rock surface or the ground that traces a geological fault

continent: any of the world’s main continuous expanses of land (Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, Australia, Antarctica)

gully: a valley

tectonic plate: two sub-layers of the earth’s crust (lithosphere) that move, float, and sometimes fracture. They cause earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains and the earth to split.

ocean basin: a tectonic plate at the bottom of the oceans



1. Continental rift

  • What significant weather event occurred in Kenya last month?
  • What did this expose?
  • What do scientist believe this is evidence of?
  • What can be done to stop this happening? Why?
  • Should we be concerned about this?

Use an atlas to help you locate where the rift is occurring. Draw a map of what the world may look like in 50 million years if this tear continues as expected.

Come up with a name for the new continents that will be formed if/when Africa splits into two.

Extension: Work with a partner to create a TV weather report to explain flooding that occurred in Kenya last month. Choose someone to be in the studio and the other to be ‘on the scene’. Make sure you include the important details about the rainfall, flooding, and the effect it has had on people and the city/environment. You may also like to an ‘interview’ with a local who has been affected. Create a script and rehearse your lines. When you are satisfied with your performance – present it to your class.

Time: Allow 45 minutes

Curriculum links: English, The Humanities – Geography, Science, The Arts – Media, Drama

2. Tectonic plates

The earth’s crust is divided into several tectonic plates. Some of which are mentioned in the article. Use research materials to find out where the plates are and what they are called.

Draw and label the tectonic plates, on a map of the world.

Which plate is Australia on?

What plates surround this plate?

Extension: Look at a map of the world. Take careful note of the coastlines of the continents. Do you notice where the coastlines of different continents look like they could have been once joined together. They will not match exactly but you may notice the general shape is the same.

Time: Allow 30 minutes

Curriculum links: English, The Humanities – Geography, Science

Extra Resources: Maps of the world, access to information about tectonic plates.


With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text? Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb- make sure it still makes the context it was taken from.

Try and see if you can replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP


Please do not use one-word answers. Explain what you enjoyed or found interesting about the article. Use lots of adjectives.

Extra Reading in geography