Earth’s rigid outer shell is divided into a dozen large tectonic plates, and one of the main ones, the Pacific plate, is disintegrating. The discovery was made by researchers at the University of Toronto and is shedding new light on the centuries-old model of plate tectonics. The team discovered that the Pacific plate is marked by large underwater faults that are pulling it apart. The research has been published in the journal Geophysical research letters and it talks about the enormous forces that are dragging the plates.
Underwater faults are hundreds of kilometers long and thousands of meters deep.
“We knew that geological deformations, such as faults, occur inside continental plates, far from the plate boundaries. But we didn’t know the same thing was happening with oceanic plates,” Erkan Gun, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, told phys.org.
“What we’re doing is refining plate tectonics – the theory that describes how our planet works – and showing that those plates really aren’t as pristine as we previously thought,” added Russell Pysklywec, a professor in the department of Earth sciences.
The Pacific Plate, the largest tectonic plate, makes up most of the floor of the Pacific Ocean and extends along the west coast of North America to Alaska. In the far west, it runs from Japan to New Zealand and Australia.
This plate forms a large part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
The latest research has identified new points where the Pacific plate is being pulled into the mantle.
“It was thought that because suboceanic plateaus are thicker, they should be stronger. But our models and seismic data show that it is actually the opposite: the plateaus are weaker,” Gun said.
The research team studied four plateaus in the western Pacific Ocean (Ontong Java, Shatsky, Hess and Manihiki) in a vast area roughly bounded by Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. The data was then fed into a supercomputer, which compared it to information collected in studies conducted in the 1970s and 1980s.
A new finding like this overturns what we have understood and taught about the active Earth. And it shows that there are still radical mysteries even about the great workings of our evolving planet,” Pysklywec said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Kashmir Monitor staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)