The East African Rift


Geographical Explorations in Kenya

Kenya is situated across the equator in east-central Africa, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. The country borders Somalia to the east, Ethiopia to the north, Tanzania to the south, Uganda to the west, and Sudan to the northwest. In the north, the land is arid; the southwest corner is in the fertile Lake Victoria Basin; and a length of the eastern depression of the Great Rift Valley separates western highlands from those that rise from the lowland coastal strip.

The East African Rift is a prominent tectonic feature of Africa. It was formed by fracturing of the Earth’s crust. On one side of the rift lies the Nubian (or African) tectonic plate, which encompasses the older continental crust of Africa. The Somalian plate lies to the other side and includes the Horn of Africa. Together with the associated Ethiopian Rift, the tectonic boundary stretches from the southern Red Sea to central Mozambique. The Eastern Branch of the East African Rift is arid. whereas the Western Branch lies on the border of the humid Congolese rainforest. The East African rift system is marked by considerable volcanic activity, including lavas erupted from fissures along the rift in the region (Nasa, Earth Observatory, 2015).

East African Rift as seen from the International Space Station. Nasa, 2012
East African Rift as seen from the International Space Station. Nasa, 2012

My journey across Kenya has allowed me to observe and scale some of the great geologic features of this country including: The Ngong hills, lake Naivasha and lake Oleidon, Mount Longonot, Aberdare Mountains and Mount Kenya. For a geoscientist and nature lover, travelling to such a remarkable place without exploring the local geography is often impossible. For an experience to be truly fulfilling, I believe the individual must share a holistic approach to exploration, whatever the focus of his work is. Only then can one fully understand the grand scheme of things. As a direct result of my brief wanderings across Kenya, I learnt that approximatively 70% of the country’s freshwater resources come from the small glaciers of Mount Kenya and surrounding volcanic cones. Recent climatic predictions made by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested that by 2050, the “water towers” of Kenya will completely loose their disappear, leading probably to the worst drought and water scarcity issues the country has ever experienced. It is for this particular reason, that Kenya is currently focusing many of its economic and social resources to embrace sustainable development. Of particular relevance are technologies dealing with water scarcity and food security issues such as hydroponic farming, environmentally friendly stove systems, solar power and geothermal power plants. In fact Kenya is leading the sustainable development quest in East Africa. Unfortunately, many problems continue to affect the country such as environmental pollution and inefficient waste management. Moreover, social and political tensions that have almost plunged the country into a civil war in the past, can often slow down development. The challenge is there, the solution is also there. The choice is of the people.

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