Science: Birth of an Ocean

The Afar triangle is a 40,000-sq.-mi. portion of northeast Ethiopia that lies at the juncture of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It is a land of jagged mountains and cliffs, treacherous earth faults, active volcanoes and below-sea-level deserts where temperatures rise to a scorching 134°F. in the shade. Its only inhabitants are fierce nomads, one of whose reputed customs is to carve parts from battle victims and bear them home as trophies for their women. Yet the most awesome aspect of this Dantean terrain is the inferno that may be hidden beneath it. After three recent expeditions to...

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