Stress of Africa tearing in two the likely cause

2014-08-06 00:00

THE African continent is slowly tearing in two.

This is the likely cause of yesterday afternoon’s earthquake in Orkney in North West that registered 5.5 magnitude on the Richter scale and was felt around South Africa.

Specialist in structural geology at the department of geology at the University of Johannesburg, Dr Herman van Niekerk, said the epicentre of the quake was 10 kilometres under the Earth’s surface, some six kilometres from the mining town of Orkney. He dismissed speculation that mining activity had caused the quake, saying the deepest mines only went four kilometres deep.

Tremors were felt along South Africa’s seaboard, from Cape town to Durban, as well as in Botswana and even Zimbabwe.

Van Niekerk said the quake may have been caused by movements of the Earth’s crust in the Rift Valley in Ethiopia. This places extreme stress on the Earth’s crust. He said the crust has to get rid of this stress somewhere, and yesterday it happened near Orkney.

He said southern Africa continental crust was very old at 2,7 billion years and the continent itself was slowly ripping apart, with the giant tear starting at the Rift Valley in Central Africa and continuing to northern Mozambique.

The website The Basement Geographer states the eastern section of the tear is moving away from the African continent at about 2,5 centimetres per year. This will eventually lead to a new tectonic plate and a brand new continent known as the ‘Somali plate’ will contain the larger part of Africa’s east coast.

Manager at at the Council for GeoSciences’ seismology unit, Michelle Grobbelaar, said the previous record of a 5.3 magnitude on the Richter Scale was in 2005 in Stilfontein. This is in the same area as Orkney. A task team hope to have determined the cause of the quake by month end.

She said the depth of the epicentre caused the tremors to spread through southern Africa. A shallower quake would have been more localised.

The epicentre was at one of AngloGoldAshanti’s three mines in the area. Spokesperson for the mines Chris Nthite initially said 17 workers had been treated for light injuries, but the number went up to 22 last night. By 7.30 pm last night, all of the 3 300 miners who were underground during the quake had been hoisted to the surface.

The quake did not seem to cause any structural damage to the group’s three mines in the area, said Stewart Bailey of AngloGoldAshanti.

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