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Africa 'witnessing birth of a new ocean' (2010) (bbc.com)
112 points by niccolop on Jan 11, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

Americans don't need to travel so far to see an ocean being born. The block-fault zone from the Sea of Cortez up through most of Nevada is pulling apart rapidly and has already created 500 miles of inlet between Baja California and mainland Mexico.

Much of the next few hundred miles north through the Salton Sea and Death Valley is already under sea level and all of Nevada has thinning crust that will eventually fall under sea level.

in fact, most of the valleys in Nevada, in spite of typical elevations around 4000 feet, are already below sea level. It's just that they presently don't have any outlet to the sea in the Great Basin so alluvium has collected as the fault-block mountains created by spreading erode. [0] When a river has a chance to cut down through that soft debris, the valley floors will quickly drop below sea level also.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fault_block#Fault-block_mounta...

How can a place be simultaneously 4k elevation and also "presently below sea level"? Are you saying that the introduction of sea water would rapidly erode 4k ft of surface material?

Yes, AIUI, he's saying bedrock is under sea level and is covered by 4000 ft of easily erodable material.

No, he's saying that most valleys are above 4K, but some other valleys are below sea level.

But I also think he's wrong: as said in http://www.netstate.com/states/geography/mapcom/nv_mapscom.h..., I quote "[...] but the lowest point in Nevada is actually only 479 feet above sea level at the Colorado River at the southern end of the state." .

So, cheap seafront property in Nevada right now?

If you're in it for the long haul, yes.

Thanks for this connection. Further pointer for the wikipedia-addicted: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rift_valley

And yes, Wikipedia lists the Valleys of Nevada:


TL;DR a split in Ethiopia is about 65km long. It'll eventually split the African Continent in 10 million years. Hold off the oceanfront land speculation.

Article is from 2010 btw.

So really, 9,999,993 years from now. :)

If there was ever a case for immortality, this is it.

I'd love to see how this turns out.

> Article is from 2010 btw.

Thank you for pointing this out. I find a tendency to not seek out date of publish and assume content from places like hackernews is current. From 2010 feels a lot less like current events which is part of what I read the front page here.

New years resolution is to check dates and sources of articles, thanks!

I reckon things haven't changed much in the last several years.

There's glacial, and then there's continental drift.

I'm seeing the title listed on HN as "Africa 'witnessing birth of a new ocean' (2010) (bbc.com)"

Is this something only I can see, or was it edited since your comment?

Their comment is from 10 hours ago. New feature proposal for HN, little edited label/flag next to titles that have been changed by the mods.

For a quick ROI in less than a hundred years you could just buy land further inland in places like Florida, North/South Carolina, even London. Once Greenland goes and the ice sheets in Antartica you'll have beachfront.

To anybody from the BBC reading this, please, please, with an article like this, a map tells more than a thousand words. I'm very familiar with the Afar Triangle, but please, include a map with an article like this in the future.

Thank you.

A single inlet, attached to the Red Sea -- wouldn't this be a Sea and not an Ocean?

Also a story like this without a map is very annoying; my best guess as to where it is is here:


The Earth has a continental drift cycle where we form a supercontinent, which changes the circulation pattern, the supercontinent breaks up, the pieces drift around the world, and then recombine into a supercontinent again.

The last supercontinent was Pangea Asia, Europe and Africa are what is left and they are continuing to break up. The next one will meet where the Pacific plate now is.

So this starts as a rift, then a valley, then an inlet, then that will widen into an ocean, and then the barriers between oceans will disappear.

So yes, this will be a sea before it is an ocean. But it is also correct to talk about it as the birth of a new ocean. (The Red Sea is also on its way to being an ocean. It is just farther along. And the Atlantic is farther along still.)

Is there evidence for continent/ocean placement affecting convection currents in the mantle (and thus plate movements)?

Is there evidence for any changes in convection currents?

i.e. what do we have to go on, besides back-extrapolation of observed drift (happening today, and in "recent" geologic past, e.g. reversal of magnetized direction)?

Why should the continents recombine into a supercontinent, rather that drift arbitrarily? Is the idea that, sooner or later, a traffic jam will occur, where first two bang into each other and can't move, creating a larger obstacle, which another then collides with... but since there's some process for a supercontinent to separate, what's the neccessity for this process to not tear apart the collided continents before a full supercontinent is formed?

Isn't it a bit early to be calling it a cycle? I mean, we've not even completed one full iteration yet.

Unless I'm wrong, and the tectonic plates existed and were moving long before the oceans did?

No we have plenty of evidence of previous cycles. It's called the Wilson Cycle:


For further reading I can recommend 'Supercontinent' by Ted Nield.

One full iteration of continent formation and breaking up?


Seems to indicate otherwise, but I'm certainly no expert on geology or whatever sub-specialization is concerned with plate tectonics and history of them.

By that logic, it's a bit early to conclude that Pluto orbits the sun. We haven't even seen it go half way around yet.

The cycle has already completed many times. At all points there were oceans somewhere, it's not like the water materialised out of nowhere recently.

Sudan and Egypt do not like that outcome. They would have no more Nile.

This is the rift here. The three features running top to bottom from slight left to slight right. https://www.google.com/maps/@11.6842232,40.6702185,80711a,20...

This is where the explosion was https://www.google.com/maps/@12.642073,40.5202369,1118a,20y,...

"three features"?

No the rift is here:


I was going to mention the lack of map as well. I had hoped someone may have drawn one in the comments.

In the long term, the rift (which is an example of what is, in other contexts, referred to as a "mid-ocean spreading center") will produce much more than a narrow inlet attached to the Red Sea.

But, yes, the initial body of water that will form will not be what anyone would characterize as an ocean.

We should set up a webcam there and make a time lapse for the next 10 million years.

We do have satellites - I don't know about 10 million years but it seems reasonable to assume that humans will maintain satellites in orbit for imaging purposes as long as we are technologically able.

How long do you think humans will be around? Sure, homosapiens have been here for like 2~3 million years, right? But out modern human civilizations are very young, like ~ 10,000 years at the most (depending on your metrics and what is a civilization).

To quote Blade Running, "the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long." We could be here another million years, or we could be here only 50,000 more years .. or 5 year or 5 days, if Dr. Strangelove gets his way.

Not gonna speculate on the future, but for some historical perspective:

Behaviorly modern humans: ~60k years

Anatomically modern humans: ~200k years

Divergence from apes: ~6M years ago

Mammals: ~200M+ years

Dinosaurs: ~165M years

Dragonflies: ~325M+ years

Source: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/08/putting-time-in-perspective.ht...

I bet in 10 million years we'll be totally gone or somewhere in a computer. I doubt we'll still bother with physical bodies.

Assuming it is possible (which I don't think), would you really want to be a disembodied computer program?

(Being in a robot doesn't count, since you'd merely be exchanging one body for another.)

[The following is intended philosophically, not religiously] There is an old, I believe Jewish, tradition that demons are spirits without a body. Their whole goal is to regain a body (hence demonic possession). In one interpretation of Mark 5, when Jesus tells the demons to leave the Gerasene man, they ask for permission to go into the pigs nearby. [1] I guess a pig body is better than none (but it doesn't work, the pigs rush off the cliff and drown, leaving the demons bodyless again).

I've thought about that interpretation over the years as a philosophical exercise. If you are only spirit and no body, then maybe you cannot interact with the world. That would be a bummer... You'd be stuck trying to get spirits with bodies to use them for you.

So if you are a disembodied computer program, how would you see? How would you communicate? How would you repair yourself? How would you influence world events? You'd be stuck experiencing things vicariously, by snooping on Google images and people's FB accounts and reading their emails, and hacking their computers/Google glass/VR/cars/robots. If you couldn't find someone to do your bidding willingly, you would have to start manipulating people to get them to do what you want. You manipulate people through fear and through temptation. All this is starting to sound rather demonic. You'd end up as a digital demon...

[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+5&version=...

How does my brain (me!) see, communicate or experience things? Through sense organs; and there's no reason if I could somehow upload my consciousness into a computer that it couldn't do those things too. I tend to agree that the upload part might be a bit tricky, but if you could port my mind (or spirit) out of my flesh computer into another form, then I don't see why it couldn't interact with the world.

http://www.gregegan.net/DIASPORA/01/Orphanogenesis.html is a great read on the concept.

We probably don't agree that mind is a program running in the brain, and is equivalent to spirit. But it's always fun to debate ;-)

Interesting take that I had not considered. I was not familiar with the story from Mark. I have thought about this topic as well but from a completely different direction.

My question about uploading consciousness is in the transition point. As I sit here in front of my computer could I click a button and upload my memories and consciousness to a computer? Would they for some reason leave my body at the same time? Would it be instantly fatal? Why?

Wouldn't I really just be forking my consciousness? One version of me would continue forward inside a computer with the memory of the transition and the corporeal me would continue wondering if it even worked. The corporeal me would still die at some point but I could die with the satisfaction(?) that I created a copy of myself at some point in time.

I'm not sure that's much different than writing a book and having children.

There's no reason to believe anything happens with your consciousness if you "upload" it to a computer.

There's no reason to believe we'll find a way to transfer the consciousness rather than make a copy of it (or something that is indistinguishable from it to an outside observer).

When you upload your consciousness, you're left behind to die. When you use a transporter, the transporter kills you. Your consciousness ends with your body. Lt Barclay in Star Trek was right to be afraid of the cloning death machines.

The question, I guess is, whether the knowledge that an exact replica of yourself will live on for eternity is good enough for you. Or whether you're religious enough to forego our understanding of the physical world and believe in the existence of a non-physical "soul" that will automatically attach itself to the copy when the host is destroyed (though this creates all kinds of questions if the host isn't instantly destroyed during the process of the "upload").

For me the whole "uploading people into computers" and other immortality pipe dreams are really just playing for time. Even if it was possible and desirable, which I have my doubts about, that's not how it will play out. That's the carrot, not the road, and I think the destination will be more tiled and dimly lit rather than a sunny meadow where we all dance and create in. It's like saying you have to burn everything to start building... but burning really everything, including the will and the means to build.

If we threw the Earth into the sun, and the sun managed to dissolve all of us and all we have made, would that mean we ascended, that a molten sea is a higher stage of evolution because it "won"? Of course not. We're like a magician who makes himself disappear.. okay fine, neat trick, now what? If there was anyone to applaud, we wouldn't hear it anyway. Am I too cynical? But I'm biting my tongue!

Though I don't really mean the body, I think that's kind of orthogonal. Someone can be paralyzed from their neck down and still think straight, while others walk about, go to the gym regularly, and still don't see the woods for all the trees.

What really strikes me is that reading intelligent people had more interesting things to say about automation decades and if you squint hard maybe even centuries ago, than we have today. We are at the court of the king exchanging platitudes so to speak, not in the halls of scholars describing that king freely and in depth.

Our ability to create, record and maintain data is increasing exponentially. Someone in Indonesia was able to get a message 35,000 years into the future using a cave and come paint. We have only gotten better at preserving data since then. I think it's safe to assume that at least some of the information we record will survive as long as there is someone around to care.

I don't think that two works of fiction from the last century are reliable indicators of the longevity of our species. I look more to the historical evidence we have of the resilience of humans. I don't know if we will be around for millions of years but I don't think we have reached midlife.

There was a novel where someone showed a "home movie" like that -- Marooned in Real Time, Vernor Vinge. It's not a spoiler, just a cool detail. Alas that the time travel that made it possible went only one way.

And a video going 25m years into the future https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/Plate-Tectonics/Chap3-Plate-Margi...

A map would be extremely useful to illustrate the process (instead of a picture of dirt). I am also not clear as to why the new waterway would be considered a "new ocean." Would it not just form a strait or at most a sea as a part of the Indian Ocean?

It's so new that it isn't big enough to be an ocean yet. But if you wait a while, you'll see...

Another article from 2013 reports conflicting evidence: http://www.livescience.com/39724-afar-rift-deep-mantle-melt....

Actually, no, that article reports differences between the EAR and mature ocean spreading centers, but that is not evidence which conflicts with the idea that it is a nascent spreading center.

Oh no, the idea that this is a rift zone is irrefutable

"parts of the region are below sea level and the ocean is only cut off by about a 20-metre block of land in Eritrea."

This caught my eye. How big is this region that is just 20m away from being flooded? And 20m of Eritrea at that. Not exactly comparable IMHO to the rather more politically stable Netherlands.

Assuming this map is somewhat accurate, it seems like even just 1m would make most of the difference for that country:


"It will pull apart, sink down deeper and deeper and eventually... parts of southern Ethiopia, Somalia will drift off, create a new island, and we'll have a smaller Africa and a very big island that floats out into the Indian Ocean."

This sounds like the sequel to Madagascar

> The researchers say that they are extremely lucky to be able to witness the birth of this ocean as the process is normally hidden beneath the seas.

What??? The birth of oceans usually happens "beneath the seas"...?

Oceanic crust vs continental crust

If that part of Africa splits from the rest of the continent, it will just be like Madagascar, which has been drifting away from Africa since we started noticed.

Madagascar and Mozambique may be on different plates but they're actually separated by the Davie Ridge, a transform zone. You can see it nicely imaged in the seismic in this report:


Then again, this zone does end up in the East African Triple Junction so you are technically correct.

Why do articles related to geography and archeology always come with just one picture?

>10 million years in the future

Well you can get away with making any prediction this way

As a geologist this is exactly the sort of timescale we work on.

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