Back to Africa Check

No natural disasters caused by shifting tectonic plates in East Africa ‘this month’

“We will experience more ‘natural disasters’ like floods, earthquakes, volcanoes this month,” claims a Facebook post dated 17 April 2022. It says that “as part of Eastern Africa experience a shift in Tectonic plates towards the West”, a gap will form between two parts of the continent, and flood with water.

These “tetron plates”, it says, start in the coastal South African city of Durban, “going north past Egypt, towards Kyiv”, the capital of Ukraine.

It adds that there will be “heavy explosions along this line as a cover up” – that the tectonic activity will be hidden from the public.

But is any of this true?

The conspiratorial warnings and claims of floods and other natural disasters are certainly not, but there is some truth to the post. Let’s explain.

Map_Incorrect

Tectonic plates are drifting apart, but very slowly

The surface of the Earth is made up of tectonic plates – massive pieces of land that can move slowly on top of the layer of partially molten rock beneath them. A map created by National Geographic shows the positions of some of the Earth’s major plates.

While some tectonic plate maps show only a single “African plate”, you’ll notice that the National Geographic map has two smaller plates in its place. This is due to the East African Rift (EAR), in which the African plate is slowly splitting in two: the Nubian plate to the west and the Somali plate to the east.

As a 2014 study describes, the EAR is around 5,000 kilometres long and crosses several eastern African countries. But it does not extend “from Durban, going north past Egypt, towards Kyiv”.

All of Ukraine, including Kyiv, lies on the Eurasia plate and doesn’t touch the EAR. And the EAR does not pass through or near Durban. The rift extends under the sea, never crossing South Africa or touching its coastline.

Nor is the rift going to cause dramatic changes in less than a month. Tectonic plates move slowly, and the EAR is thought to be separating at just over 5 millimetres per year – or around 7 mm a year according to other estimates. So there won’t be any dramatic changes to the landscape “this month”.

In (a lot of) time, the plates will eventually drift far enough apart for water to rush in and create a new ocean.

Rift will become a new ocean … in around 10 million years

As the BBC reported in September 2020, the EAR will eventually form a new ocean in the Afar Depression. This is the area along the border of Ethiopia and Djibouti where the Nubian, Somali and Arabian plates meet.

Geophysicists at the Nasa Earth Observatory told the BBC that in around 10 million years, the Afar Depression will fill with water as the EAR drifts apart, creating “an ocean as big as the Atlantic, while the Horn of Africa will become an island”.

The process may occasionally have noticeable effects on everyday life. Lucía Pérez-Díaz, a geologist at the University of Oxford in the UK, wrote in 2018 that “the formation of new faults, fissures and cracks or renewed movement along old faults as the Nubian and Somali plates continue moving apart can result in earthquakes”.

But Pérez-Díaz stresses that even this seismic activity is limited and largely unnoticeable. She reassures readers that “rifting is a very slow process that, most of the time, goes about splitting Africa without anybody even noticing”.

So the EAR won’t cause a sudden increase in natural disasters this month. As for the more conspiratorial aspects of the claim (that the EAR will be “covered up”), a wealth of information about the rift is available for free to the public. The research papers, news reports, and expert comments which Africa Check has quoted in this report are all publicly available.

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.

Close and keep reading

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.