May 24, 2024

Tectonic plates beneath the Pacific Ocean are being torn apart

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Until now, scientists have assumed that ocean tectonic plates are stronger than others. A new study now aims to refute this.

MUNICH – Scientists disagreed for a long time, but after decades of research, the theory of plate tectonics was arrived at in the 1960s. But even after more than 60 years, current research results are still constantly improving. A new study now shows that there is more movement in the Earth than previously thought. Only recently have researchers discovered a previously unknown painting.

According to current theory, the Earth's crust consists of seven large plates and a number of much smaller plates at a depth of about 100 kilometers. The rocks beneath the plates are solid, but high pressure and high temperatures can cause plastic flow similar to that of a glacier.

The consequences of the movement of Earth's plates on Earth are diverse. Where they rub against each other or tear apart, dangerous earthquakes can occur, volcanoes or deep-sea trenches, as well as mountains, can form. In addition, entire continents can break apart or collide over time due to plate tectonics. However, one study also shows that, contrary to what has long been assumed, life on Earth may have arisen before plate tectonics.

Plate tectonics study: Researchers examine ocean plates — and disprove ancient theory

A new study conducted by a team of scientists in the magazine Geophysical Research Letters Published research now shows that four plateaus studied in the western Pacific Ocean are not solid plates, but rather areas of weakness being torn apart by forces at the edge of the plates.

The movement of the Earth's plates has a direct effect on the Earth's surface (glyph). © imago

“We knew that geological deformations such as faults occur within continental plates, far from plate boundaries. But we did not know that the same thing happened with ocean plates,” explains lead author Erkan Gün, a geoscientist at the University of Toronto. Reverse Until now, researchers have assumed that large parts of the Earth's crust at the center of oceanic plates will remain very solid as they float above the Earth's mantle and will not deform like plate edges.

“The data suggests the opposite is true”: oceanic plates are weaker than previously thought

Due to the great effort involved, scientists were limited to an area of ​​​​four oceanic plateaus located between Japan and Hawaii. These highlands include the Shatsky Highlands, the Hesse Rise, the Ontong Java Plateau north of the Solomon Islands, and the Manihiki Plateau in northeastern Fiji and Tonga.

The research team found that the plateaus have deformation and magmatic properties that indicate they were torn apart by tensile forces at the edge of the Pacific Plate, where plates are embedded under neighboring plates. “The plateaus under the ocean were supposed to be stronger because they are thicker,” Gunn says. “But our seismic models and data show that the opposite is true: the plateaus are weaker.”

“The theory is not set in stone and we are still discovering new things,” said geophysicist Russell Pisklyuk of the University of Toronto and co-author of the study. The reason for this is the relatively small area observed by the researchers. “Sending out research ships to collect data is a huge effort,” Gunn says. “In fact, we hope our research will draw some attention to plateaus and collect more data.”

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