Today, the rocks are in the process of being reduced to sand, but make for an interesting geological study.
All of the deserts of the world are different, but have sand, sun, dust, and wind in common. They are often the product of the environments that border them, and prevent rainfall or moisture from reaching them. Geologic studies reveal that these deserts were very different places as recently as 5,000 years ago. The periods of Earth's evolution are recorded in the rock sediments, and can be identified from satellite images. As the Earth evolved, and mountain ranges rose from the depths of the Earth, pushed forward by shifting plates and separating continents, it impacted the conditions of what eventually became desert regions on Earth.
The deserts are hostile environments for mankind, but they are not without life. Insects, and even elephants and lions can be found in some of the most hostile deserts like the Sahara and the Gobi deserts. It is impossible to predict what changes these deserts will undergo in the future as climate change impacts the Earth's environments. Yet there is much to be learned from these deserts about the history of the Earth, and about the evolution of other planets in our galaxy and the universe.
Buried beneath the sands of the desert are fossil records that reveal the life that once roamed these arid lands. The different layers of rock can be identified by their different color compositions, show that abrupt changes occurred as well as changes that occurred slowly, taking thousands of years to bring about the changes that we see in the deserts today. We can see the changes happening today.
"In 2005, a gigantic, 35-mile-long rift broke open the desert ground in Ethiopia. At the time, some geologists believed the rift was the beginning of a new ocean as two parts of the African continent pulled apart, but the claim was controversial. Now, scientists from several countries have confirmed that the volcanic processes at work beneath the Ethiopian rift are nearly identical to those at the bottom of the world's oceans, and the rift is indeed likely the beginning of a new sea . . . The new study, published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly...
In addition, such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events, says Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study. "This work is a breakthrough in our understanding of continental rifting leading to the creation of new ocean basins," says Ken Macdonald, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and who is not affiliated with the research. "For the first time they demonstrate that activity on one rift segment can trigger a major episode of magma injection and associated deformation on a neighboring segment. Careful study of the 2005 mega-dike intrusion and its aftermath will continue to provide extraordinary opportunities for learning about continental rifts and mid-ocean ridges (eScience News 2009, online)."
We are scientists of our geological history and observers of geological history in the making in our world today. It is important that the different scientific disciplines -- archeology, biology, and geology -- work together in order to gain as much information about the deserts and their evolutionary and environmental secrets as possible. We can use the information, past and present, hidden beneath the sands of the deserts, in the rock formation sediments, and in the changing Ethiopian desert to understand our world around us, and to hopefully prepare for whatever changes mankind must face on the horizon of time.
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African Desert Rift Confirmed as New Ocean in the Making (2009), eScience News,
found online at http://esciencenews.com/articles/2009/11/02/african.desert.rift.confirmed.new.ocean.making, retrieved May 10, 2010.
Maier, R.M., Pepper, I.L., and Gerba, C.P. (2009). Environmental Microbology.…
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