Exploring the East African Rift

Exploring the East African Rift

Driven by processes in the deep earth over millions of years, the East African Rift is slowly tearing the continent apart, producing earthquakes and volcanoes along its 2,400-mile track. A scientific team including Donna Shillington, James Gaherty and Cornelia Class of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is working in Malawi and Tanzania to understand the causes, the long-term evolution, and the real-time hazards.

Mapping Faults Hidden below Lake Malawi

by | 3.26.2015 at 7:28pm
The M/V Katundu in port in Nkhata Bay, Malawi.

Marine seismic studies like ours are routinely done in the oceans using scientific equipment and research vessels outfitted specially for these purposes. Collecting comparable data in a great lake in Africa requires creative repurposing of available vessels and adaption of scientific equipment.

Seismology as Performance Art

by | 8.14.2013 at 4:16pm

Ideally, seismic stations are sited in remote, quiet locations. But other considerations are important for a good station, particularly security. As a result, we placed most of our stations in towns near schools, hospitals or town halls, where people could keep an eye on them.

Surface Views of the Southern East Africa Rift Inspire a Look Underground

by | 8.12.2013 at 1:15am

Driving around the Rungwe volcanic province in the southern East Africa Rift installing seismometers, we have the chance to observe first hand how geological processes in action create the most dramatic forms at Earth’s surface.

Imaging beneath the southernmost volcanoes in the East Africa Rift

by | 8.4.2013 at 3:24pm | 3 Comments
Map showing elevation and lake depth, locations of volcanoes (red triangles, from Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program), major faults (black lines) with planned locations for seismometers. We plan to deploy the light blue stations in the next three weeks around the Rungwe volcanic province

The last time we visited the southern part of the East Africa Rift, we were responding to an unusual series of earthquakes in December 2009 that shook northern Malawi. This time, we return to this part of the rift system as a part of a more comprehensive effort to understand the underpinnings of this continental rift.

In Ethiopian Desert, a Window into Rifting of Africa

by | 7.8.2013 at 9:26am

A new study in the journal Nature provides fresh insight into deep-earth processes driving apart huge sections of the earth’s crust. This rifting mostly takes place on seabeds, but can be seen in a few places on land—nowhere more visibly than in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia.

Return to Malawi: Bringing Home Instruments and Earthquake Data

by | 5.20.2010 at 3:36pm

In early May, Scott Nooner and I returned to Malawi to retrieve our seismic equipment and finally lay eyes on the data recorded over the last 4 months. Picking them up was vastly easier than putting them out. In contrast to the days studying out-dated maps and driving down dirt roads looking for sites, and []

Reaching Out: Educating Specialists and the Public on Earthquake Monitoring

by | 3.7.2010 at 12:02pm

While installing our seismic network in Malawi, we interacted with everyone from scientists to schoolteachers, and journalists to villagers. The opportunity to provide information and education to Malawians has been the most rewarding aspect of our effort. We trained local scientists and technicians on seismic equipment and data analysis, and educated the public on earthquakes []

Risks and Rewards: funding a technical earthquake response

by | 2.25.2010 at 6:30pm

A rapid technical response to the damaging earthquakes in Malawi produces both humanitarian and scientific benefits, and we hoped that both scientific and international assistance agencies would support our effort. Our seismic field effort serves two purposes: (1) to provide badly needed seismic equipment and technical training to the Malawi Geological Survey department (MGSD); and []

High, Dry and Safe: In Search of the Perfect Site

by | 2.10.2010 at 9:36am | 2 Comments

The ideal spot for a seismic station is dry, quiet and safe from vandals and thieves. Seismometers record slight ground motions, allowing them to hear distant (and not so distant) earthquakes. But cars or even kids playing near a seismic station can produce ground vibrations that overwhelm the subtle sounds of earthquakes. Seismic stations include []

A Rough Start

by | 2.9.2010 at 12:48am | 1 Comment

The magnitude 6.0 earthquake that struck Malawi on Saturday night, December 19, spurred us into action. We had been closely following the earthquakes there, but this one confirmed the unusual nature of the seismic sequence. It also happened to be the most destructive. Leonard Kalindekafe, director of Malawi’s Geological Survey, asked us to come and []