The surface of the Earth is constantly changing. Continents have collided and drifted apart, and new oceans have formed (over millions of years) to give us the Earth we have today. But the Earth is still changing and some surprising things are happening right now.

Why is this important?

Imagine being able to walk across a continent as it splits in two!

This process of ocean formation is normally hidden deep beneath the seas, but in Afar we can walk across the region as the Earth's surface splits apart. The Afar desert is a one-of-a-kind natural laboratory for studying geology.

Scientists from the UK, Ethiopia, France and the US have come together to conduct a major set of experiments, to help them understand how the surface of the Earth changes shape over time.

Why does this matter?

Think about what it must be like to live somewhere where earthquakes and volcanoes happen without warning, where your country is splitting in two beneath towns and villages!

The scientists working in Afar provide regular reports to the local government about the situation. They help the local people to understand the risks, and to plan how they will act when volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur. The research is really important in understanding where and when earthquakes and volcanoes might occur, and the scientists are one of the first points of contact when there is a crisis situation.

In the picture below, scientist Derek Keir checks the instruments he will use to measure seismic activity, which might indicate the start of an earthquake or volcanic eruption.

Checking seismic instruments

It is not all bad news though! Sometimes, buried in the edges of continents that are splitting in two, are pockets of oil and gas, which formed as the Earth's surface changed over millions of years. By studying how the continents split apart, people can predict where to find this oil and gas. This can provide energy supplies to countries in the region, and is a source of income if they sell it to other nations.

But what are the problems with extracting oil and gas to use as an energy source?