OSU Students Study Earthquakes in Africa

It seems odd at first blush why Oklahoma State University would send four geology students to Malawi in Africa to study earthquakes when Oklahoma is now home of the largest number of earthquakes in the U.S.

Nonetheless, the students spent last summer in Africa studying tectonic rifts thanks to a 2014 grant from the National Science Foundation. The students were led by Dr. Estella Atekwana who is head of the OSU Geology Department and Dr. Daniel Lao-Davila, a geology professor. They traveled to Karonga, Malawi to explore the East African Rift that extends for thousands of miles along the continent’s edge bounded by the Indian Ocean.

“People don’t know what rifts are,” explained Dr. Atekwana. “There used to be one big continent, called Pangea; it’s because of rifts that the continents broke apart. Malawi has a young rift system and is the go-to-place to study the entire rift process.”

The grant to the Boone Pickens School of Geology created an international program for students, sending a total of 12 students in groups of four for three years. The trips allow the students to collect geological data and gain cultural experience outside of Oklahoma State University.

A major earthquake struck Karonga in 2009 and indicated the rift was still active. But rifts are also found in Oklahoma and the Midwest.

“There’s an ancient rift in Oklahoma not many people know about,” said Dr. Lao-Davila. “It’s in the southwest part of the state by the Wichita Mountains. Other places we can explore are the Rio Grande Rift in New Mexico and the Mid Continent Rift System that spans across Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan. It’s one of the oldest examples of a rift—about about 1.1 billion years old.”





   

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