The scientists from the University of Leeds, one of the largest universities in the UK, say millions of years from now, the pulling apart of the Arabian and Nubian tectonic plates will let waters to rush into and widen the Red Sea. The Leeds scientists have also been able to get an unprecedented picture of the workings of stretching plates, the rock crust moving across Earth’s surface at up to 12 centimeters per year. While the exact course of this continental drift is hard to predict, the movement of the fault promises eventually to widen the Red Sea between Africa and the Arabian peninsula and extend it southwards, cutting a marine inlet inland.
Tim Wright of the University of Leeds and his international team of colleagues gathered ground and space-based observations of a widening fraction in the Afar Desert of Ethiopia. Between September and October of last year, a 60-kilometer-long stretch of rock spread by as much as eight meters. Magma from adjacent volcanoes filled in the bottom part of the rift, creating new continental crust and a dyke of roughly 2.5 cubic kilometers–twice as much material as erupted from Mount St. Helens–more than two kilometers below the surface. Geologists from the UK believe that they are witnessing a tectonic process similar to the one that formed the Atlantic Ocean, as adjacent plates push apart over millions of years to change the shape of the continents.