Taxonomy term

rift system

Carbon emissions spike when continents rift

The vast majority of Earth’s carbon is stored in the planet’s interior. This buried carbon is not isolated from the surface over geologic timescales, however; some of it is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and other gases when volcanic eruptions occur above subduction zones or island arcs.

19 Mar 2018

Early humans dealt with Ethiopian supervolcanoes

About 200,000 years ago, modern humans evolved in East Africa, including in what’s now Ethiopia. They — like earlier hominins who had preceded them — likely encountered occasional explosive eruptions spewing ash and lava into the air and onto the landscape, according to a new study in Nature Communications.

17 Feb 2017

One whale's incredible journey details East Africa's uplift

About 17 million years ago, a 7-meter-long beaked whale took a wrong turn off Africa’s east coast and swam hundreds of kilometers up the Anza River before stranding. In 1964, the fossilized remains of the wayward whale were discovered at high elevation in West Turkana, Kenya, and then transported to the U.S., where they were subsequently lost in storage for more than 30 years before being rediscovered at Harvard in 2011. The whale’s incredible journey is now providing crucial clues about the timing of uplift in East Africa.
07 Jul 2015

Benchmarks: February 17, 1977: Hydrothermal vents are discovered

In early February 1977, as scientists aboard the research vessel (R/V) Knorr made their way across the Pacific waters off the northwest coast of South America, they had reason to suspect their expedition might find the success that had eluded others. Previous missions had identified their destination — a site on the ocean surface about 330 kilometers northeast of the Galápagos Islands, below which two tectonic plates rift apart — as a promising location from which to search for their intended target. Once there, the researchers would deploy a variety of tools, including manned and unmanned submersibles, to the ocean bottom in the hopes of directly spotting hydrothermal vents.

17 Feb 2015

Travels in Geology: Exploring Connecticut's Ancient Rift Valley

Fifty years ago, a bulldozer operator in Connecticut discovered one of the largest dinosaur tracksites in North America, now preserved at Dinosaur State Park. The formation of the tracksite, which lies in the remnant of a Triassic rift valley, is linked with the demise of the supercontinent Pangea. 

17 Feb 2015

A real rift in the midcontinent

In the heart of the U.S. Midwest, basalt cliffs and lava flows point to a massive break in the continental crust that occurred a little more than a billion years ago, a feature known as the Midcontinent Rift. Splitting the strong, thick North American craton — the stable interior of the continent — would have required dramatic geologic events. Geologists have long suspected two leading scenarios: a plume of hot mantle rock that sat beneath the several-hundred-kilometer-thick lithosphere, something like the one that sits below Yellowstone today; or mantle material upwelling beneath a zone where the Grenville Orogeny had pulled the rigid continental crust apart as a new supercontinent formed.

30 Jul 2014

Unearthing Antarctica's mysterious mountains

In 1958, geologists discovered a mountain range buried more than a kilometer beneath the East Antarctica Ice Sheet. For more than half a century, the origins of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains have proven to be a geological puzzle, but a new study may have finally solved the enigma, and simultaneously given geologists a new understanding of mountain-building processes.

07 Feb 2012