Part I. The East African Rift System
The East African Rift System (EARS) is one the geologic wonders of the world, a place where the earth's tectonic forces are presently trying to create new plates by splitting apart old ones. In simple terms, a rift can be thought of as a fracture in the earth's surface that widens over time, or more technically, as an elongate basin bounded by opposed steeply dipping normal faults. Geologists are still debating exactly how rifting comes about, but the process is so well displayed in East Africa (Ethiopia-Kenya-Uganda-Tanzania) that geologists have attached a name to the new plate-to-be; the Nubian Plate makes up most of Africa, while the smaller plate that is pulling away has been named the Somalian Plate (Figure 1). These two plates are moving away form each other and also away from the Arabian plate to the north. The point where these three plates meet in the Afar region of Ethiopia forms what is called a triple-junction. However, all the rifting in East Africa is not confined to the Horn of Africa; there is a lot of rifting activity further south as well, extending into Kenya and Tanzania and Great Lakes region of Africa. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the general geology of these rifts are and highlight the geologic processes involved in their formation
How did these Rifts form?
The exact mechanism of rift formation is an on-going debate among geologists and geophysicists. One popular model for the EARS assumes that elevated heat flow from the mantle (strictly the asthenosphere) is causing a pair of thermal "bulges" in central Kenya and the Afar region of north-central Ethiopia. These bulges can be easily seen as elevated highlands on any topographic map of the area (Figure 1). As these bulges form, they stretch and fracture the outer brittle crust into a series of normal faults forming the classic horst and graben structure of rift valleys (Figure 3). Most current geological thinking holds that bulges are...