Kenya rift
Chasm suspected to have been caused by a heavy downpour along an underground fault-line in KenyaThomas Mukoya/ Reuters

Heavy rains in Kenya opened up a large fissure on the surface, cracking open the Earth, destroying highways and even causing minor seismic activity. This is the result of ongoing tectonic activity in the region that may eventually split the continent into two large pieces.

This fissure was first observed March 26 and continued to grow over the next few days. A report published by the Conversation detailed how such rifts form. The Lithosphere – the topmost layer of the mantle and the crust — is constantly moving and is made of tectonic plates that exert pressure on each other almost constantly.

Tectonic shifts, however, are too slow to readily observe, but sometimes something big will suddenly happen and it is always dramatic. Exactly how these plates move, what causes them to move, and how they are able to move, supposedly gliding on the asthenosphere – upper layer of the Earth's mantle – is still hotly debated among geologists.

This does not mean that the plates are simply gliding along the planet. Every now and then they rupture, causing new boundaries to form between plates, and rift valleys are created in the process. The report mentioned that this event in Africa is an ongoing creation of a rift valley.

Called the East African Rift Valley, it is over 3,000 km long and will eventually split the continent into two parts — the Somali and Nubian plates stretching from the Gulf of Aden all the way to Zimbabwe in the south. The recent rift was made evident with activity along the eastern branch of the rift valley, that passes through Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, was recorded, noted the report.

It also said rifts are the first stages of a continental break-up, and can even lead to the formation a new ocean basin that could separate the continental parts. This can be readily seen with South and North America, which drifted away from Africa about 138 million years ago, forming the Atlantic.

The continental split will take at least another 50 or so million years to complete and a new sea to eventually pour in and make it a distinct, new land, noted the report. However, it is unlikely that people right now will ever notice it, apart from some dramatic seismic activity.