As they drove through the Okavengo Delta in Botswana, a team of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) scientists and three Northeastern physics students encountered a wild elephant attempting to protect his home from the unlikely intruders.

Undeterred, the team ventured on to obtain a single GPS point along the East African Rift, which stretches between Kenya and Botswana and will eventually split the continent in two.

“It’s the fastest-moving fault in the world, so if you understand how it evolves over time it can give you a sense of how slower-moving faults are evolving,” said Mathew Chamberlain, who, along with fellow fourth-year students David Margolius and Colin Skinner, traveled to Africa and Hawaii to collect magnetotelluric data for their fall 2012 co-op.

Magnetotellurics (MT) is a method of deep-earth imaging that measures variations in the earth’s electromagnetic field caused by solar energy. Based on the conductivity of the material underground, these measurements help characterize what’s below, be it water, oil or lithosphere.

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