View to the Alayta shield volcano and rift segment

View to the Alayta shield volcano and rift segment, north of Dabbahu. Photograph by Tim Wright, January 2006.

About the Afar Rift Project

The theory of plate tectonics is widely accepted and there is reasonable agreement as to how it works. However, because the break-up of the continental crust and the generation of new oceanic crust occurs on a geological timescale, how this actually happens and what processes are involved is still poorly understood.

The recent rifting episode and eruption in the Afar region offers a unique opportunity to study this transition from continental break-up to seafloor spreading, to document and to model the geological processes and to determine how the crust grows at divergent plate boundaries.

During the Afar Rift project we aim to track the creation of magma (molten rock) from deep within the Earth, studying how it migrates and evolves as it rises towards the surface. We will study how the surface of the Earth reacts as it is thinned and split apart and how the magma is intruded into this thin crust to form the beginnings of a new ocean.