The Slowly Increasing Distance Between South America and Africa

Have you ever noticed how the eastern coastline of South America and the western coastline of Africa seem to fit together like two pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle? This isn’t mere coincidence. The slowly increasing distance between South America and Africa is due to a geological phenomenon known as plate tectonics.

Earth’s crust, where we all live, isn’t one solid piece but rather it’s broken into several large plates that float on top of the Earth’s molten core. These plates are constantly in motion due to convection currents in the mantle beneath them.

The continents we’re familiar with today weren’t always where they are now. Over millions of years, they’ve been slowly drifting apart or colliding together thanks to these moving tectonic plates. South America and Africa are on different plates – the South American Plate and African Plate respectively – which are moving away from each other at an average rate of around 2-4 centimeters per year.


Understanding Plate Tectonics

Earth’s crust isn’t just one solid piece, it’s actually comprised of several large plates. These plates are constantly on the move – though at a snail’s pace. When I say ‘move’, we’re talking about rates that range from 1 to 10 centimeters per year – so slow, it wouldn’t even win against a tortoise! This movement is due to the phenomenon known as plate tectonics.

Now you might be wondering, what causes these massive plates to shift? It all boils down to the heat deep within our planet. The Earth’s core is scorching hot, generating convection currents in the molten rock or magma present in its mantle. As this hot magma rises and cools down, it creates a circulation which drags along the overlying tectonic plates.

This brings us back to our main topic: why South America and Africa are slowly drifting apart. You see, these two continents sit on different tectonic plates – South American Plate and African Plate respectively. At their boundary underneath the Atlantic Ocean exists what we call a mid-ocean ridge.

Think of this ridge as an underwater conveyor belt spewing out new oceanic crust from Earth’s interior. As new material surfaces up at this mid-Atlantic Ridge, it pushes existing crust away – causing both South America and Africa to inch apart year after year.

So there you have it! The slowly increasing distance between South America and Africa is indeed due to plate tectonics – a process powered by Earth’s internal heat engine relentlessly churning beneath our feet.