Volcanoes mark the spot for Africa's buried energy treasure

By Sarah Cruddas (Image: Juliet Biggs/COMET+/University of Bristol/Envisat/ESA) ONE look at the landscape will give you a good idea why locals refer to Erta Ale as the gateway to hell – the black volcano’s lava lake smoulders between two cracked plates of desert. Out here in the Afar region of Ethiopia you can literally watch the world tearing itself apart. The buckles and fissures that contort this ground only hint at the violence below the surface. Here in East Africa, Earth’s tectonic forces are doing battle, forging new plates by tearing up the old ones. Tap into the roiling depths and the reward would be enormous. Hot magma from deep inside the planet wells up through the cracks, heating the rocks close to the surface. Where these meet groundwater, the intense steam can be harnessed to achieve the three ideals of perfect energy: pollution-free, sustainable and extremely reliable. See an interactive 3D map: “Ethiopian rift volcanoes“ There are few sites in the world where such a mix is so easily accessible. But thanks to a combination of factors we have not been able to access this natural powerhouse. However, recent research raises new hope of exploiting this resource – and the possibility of lifting an entire region out of poverty. The East African rift begins in Syria and blazes a 6400-kilometre trail through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Tanzania to Mozambique. “The continent of Africa is splitting apart by about 1 to 2 centimetres a year,” says Michael Kendall, who heads the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol,
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