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Where's the beach?

Beachgoers may have a new vacation spot. An ocean may be starting to form in an African desert.

On September 14, 2005, an earthquake struck Ethiopia's Afar Desert. Afterwards, scientists watched as the desert surface cracked open along a rift, or boundary along which two slowly moving rock plates separate. Over three weeks, the ground pulled apart 4 meters (13 feet), along a 60 kilometer (37 mile)-long crack.

Oceans are known to form along this type of boundary. And the recent sighting is helping geologists understand that process. When magma, or molten rock, rises from deep underground, it pushes the rock plates apart. As the plates separate over time, a valley grows in between. Eventually, water from an adjacent ocean can flow into the wide gap, explains Ian Bastow, a geologist at the University of Leeds in England.

But don't pack your swimsuit yet. It could take millions of years for the ocean to form.

Visit this Web site to learn more about the recent rift activity in Africa: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4512244.stm

Students can learn more about plate tectonics at this interactive Web site from NASA: http://kids.mtpe.hq.nasa.gov/archive/pangaea/index.html

This site has teacher resources on East Africa, including information about its geology and vegetation, as well as social issues in the region: http://exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu/curriculum/lm19/intro.html
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Title Annotation:EARTH/TECTONICS
Author:Williams, David B.
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:6ETHI
Date:Mar 27, 2006
Words:237
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