Atlantic Ocean could be swallowed up in ‘Ring of Fire,’ scientists warn

The Atlantic Ocean may “soon” be swallowed up by a vast chain of colliding tectonic plates that has been ominously dubbed the “Ring of Fire,” scientists warn.

The tectonic plate underneath Africa has been sliding below the one underneath Eurasia for about 30 million years, geologists from the University of Lisbon in Portugal noted in a recent study published in the “Geology” journal.

As it continues this downward trend, the so-called Gibraltar Trench — located underneath the 10-mile-long Gibraltar Strait that separates Spain and Morocco — will expand westward, forcing continents to move closer and closer, until the Atlantic Ocean is fully gone, the scientists found.

Scientists out of the University of Portugal have warned that the Atlantic Ocean may be swallowed up by tectonic plates. NOAA

The process may have even already begun, despite other scientists’ claims that the trench is inactive.

“We have good reason to think that the Atlantic is starting to close,” lead scientist, Professor João Duarte, told the Daily Mail.

He and his colleagues set out to investigate the long-term movement of the Gibraltar Trench, which Duarte called an “invaluable opportunity” to observe how the Africa Plate is moving underneath the Eurasia Plate “in its early stages when it is just happening,” he said in a statement.

The team created a computer model to track the changes to the trench since it formed in the Oligocene epoch between 34 million to 23 million years ago.

About 30 million years ago, the Gibraltar Trench formed when the tectonic plate underneath Africa began sliding below the one underneath Eurasia. Getty Images

They found that the plate subduction is not as dormant as geologists had believed, but has instead just moved at a slow rate of speed over the past five million years.

But over the next 20 million years — which they said is “soon” in geological terms — the trench could quadruple in size.

It is currently believed to be about 125 miles long, but could reach up to 500 miles in length, the scientists said.

Geologists had thought the African plate had stopped sliding, but the researchers found that it was just moving at a slow rate of speed. Andrea Danti/Shutterstock

The expansion would then set off a chain reaction, forming a new Atlantic subduction zone called the “Ring of Fire,” like the one that formed in the Pacific Ocean.

As the plates continue to move, the ocean floor will sink and the continents will be pulled together, the study found.

“Oceans seem eternal to our lifespan, but they are not here for long: they are born, grow and one day close,” the researchers said in a press release announcing their findings.

During this time, there may also be more earthquakes like the one that hit Lisbon in 1775.

The historic quake had an estimated magnitude of 7.7 on the Richter scale and killed nearly 12,000 — nearly destroying the Portuguese capital and its surrounding areas in the process. 

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