Afar Royal Society Press Release

Witness the birth of Africa’s new ocean in 3D

New eruptions show African continent continues to split apart

An international team of scientists are predicting that within 10 million years Africa’s Horn will fall away and a new ocean will form.  The team, who aim to show that geology can be fast and furious, will present their research at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition which opens today (25 June). Visitors to the exhibit will be able to take a 3D tour of the Afar rift in Ethiopia - above and below ground – where the African continent is cracking open.
In the remote Afar desert a 60 kilometre – around 40 miles – long segment of plate boundary cracked open by as much as eight metres over ten days in 2005. The gap filled with 2.5 cubic kilometres of molten rock – enough to bury the 42 square kilometres of London’s congestion charging zone under 60 m of lava. Since then the crack has been growing wider and longer with the latest eruptions taking place as recently as May 2010. The scientists studying the region believe that a new ocean is slowly forming and will eventually split the African continent in two.
Visitors to the “Fast and furious: witnessing the birth of Africa’s new ocean” exhibit will be able to see a 3D interactive movie of the Afar region, examining how the surface geology changes when the land splits apart. At the seismometer stand visitors will have the opportunity to jump up and down to create their own earthquakes as well as learn how scientists use earthquakes to figure out the earth’s processes.
Dr Tim Wright of the University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment says:
“The process of ocean formation is normally hidden deep beneath the seas, but in Afar we have are able to walk across the region as the Earth's surface splits apart – it really is amazing.  We now have the opportunity to conduct all sorts of experiments in this unique natural laboratory, to further understand the processes involved in shaping the surface of the Earth. It helping us to understand and mitigate natural hazards like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The activity in the last 5 years in Afar has been truly incredible – we have been witnessing the plates split apart in real time in front of our eyes. Our research has shown the importance of molten magma in the whole process – we have been able to track the magma from below the Earth’s crust until it is intruded into cracks and solidifies into new crust, or is erupted at the surface.”
The Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition is at the heart of See Further: The Festival of Science + Arts at Southbank Centre which celebrates the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society. For further information about the Festival please visit:
There will be an exciting new KS4 teaching resource available for this exhibit. For further information visit .


Notes for editors:

1. Press preview of this exhibit and others on show: 15.00 – 17.00 Tuesday 22 June – please register your interest with the Royal Society press office. Preview will take place in the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre. Registration at entrance on Festival Walkway.
2. Images and videos available on request.
3. The Fast and Furious exhibit is based on the work of the Afar Rift Consortium, a major project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council ( The consortium consists of scientists from the Universities of Leeds, Bristol, Oxford, Edinburgh and Cambridge, working with colleagues in Ethiopia, France and the US.
3. General info:  The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition showcases cutting edge research in science and engineering from across the UK. It is held annually at the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science. This year the exhibition is being held at Southbank Centre as part of See Further: The Festival of Science + Arts to mark the Royal Society’s 350th Anniversary.
This year, 27 interactive exhibits will be on show presenting the best of UK science, engineering and technology. During the ten days of the event, more than 10,000 people are expected to take up the opportunity to explore the exhibition.   
4. Exhibition opening times:       
The Exhibition is located in the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, and takes place from Friday 25 June to Sunday 4 July 2010. Open Friday 25 June 6pm - 8.30pm, then daily 10am - 8.30pm.

The event is FREE and open to the public.
Further information can be found at
5. The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. As we celebrate our 350th anniversary in 2010, we are working to achieve five strategic priorities, to:

6.  Between November 2009 and November 2010, the Royal Society is celebrating its 350th anniversary, promoting a spirit of enquiry, excitement and engagement with science.  The Society is working with organisations across the country to raise the profile of science and bring scientific activities to new audiences.  This includes:


For further information contact:
Nicola Kane
Press and Public Relations
The Royal Society, London
Tel: 020 7451 2508