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Science
FRONTIERS
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Wednesday 21:00-21:30
Frontiers explores new ideas in science, meeting the researchers whosee the world through fresh eyes and challenge existing theories - as well ashearing fromtheir critics. Manysuch developments create new ethical and moral questions and Frontiers is not afraid to consider these.
radioscience@bbc.co.uk
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Wednesday 21April 2004
Puff of Smoke
Scientists conduct seismic experiments around the Great Rift Valley using explosives.

Future Ocean

The Great Rift Valley is a huge gash cut into East Africa, extending 3000 Km from Malawi in the South to the Red Sea in the North. Its wonderful scenery. But for anyone with a geological turn of mind, the fascination of the African Rift Valley is whats going on beneath it.

It could be that this is where the next new ocean on the earth is forming.

In Frontiers this week Peter Evans meets the geologists who are getting underneath this part of Africa to learn how new seas appear.

The whole surface of the Earth is made up of great, slowly moving slabs of rock or lithosphere the ever-shifting crustal plates with rocky mantle stuck to the underneath.

These continental plates drift continuously about the globe as new oceans open up and old ones get closed down.

But, occasionally, continents themselves split apart and new ocean floor forms from volcanoes erupting down the ensuing rift. Its this event that geologists believe they are witnessing in East Africa.

Peter Evans talks to scientists such as Professor Cindy Ebinger of Royal Holloway University of London and Professor Peter Maguire of Leicester University who are running Project EAGLE the Ethiopia Afar Geoscientific Lithospheric Experiment designed to address the central issue of how a continental rift turns into a new ocean.

He discovers that the project can learn vast amounts about the deep interior of the earth from the surface, by monitoring natural earthquakes or by detonating its own man-made ones.

And in addition the earth scientists are finding out what is the engine that is keeping the entire continent of Africa on the move.

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