Sei sulla pagina 1di 2

Plate tectonics shift?

Olivine provides new data set for understanding plate tectonics

December 15, 2016

data set for understanding plate tectonics December 15, 2016

Shownisatypicalrockoutcropofperidotite,whichcontainsaseriesofmeltveins,theslightlygreenhorizontalbands

runningacrosstherock.Credit:UniversityofDelaware

Platetectonics,theideathatthesurfaceoftheEarthismadeupofplatesthatmoveapartandcomebacktogether,hasbeenusedtoexplainthe

locationsofvolcanoesandearthquakessincethe1960s.

Onewell­knownexampleofthisisthePacificRingofFire,a25,000­milestretchofthePacificOceanknownforitsstringofunderwatervolcanoes

(nearly450ofthem)andearthquakesites,accordingtotheNationalOceanicandAtmosphericAdministration(NOAA).

OnthePacificCoast,thisareasitsalongthesubductionzoneknownastheCascadiaplate,whichrunsdownthewestcoastofCanadatothewest

coastoftheUnitedStates.Mostearthquakesaresaidtooccuratsubductionzonesoralongfaultsintectonicplates.

Whatactuallydefinesatectonicplateandhowthickplatesare,however,hasremainedahotlydebatedtopic.Thisisbecausewhilescientists

knowthatthetopoftheplateisthesurfaceoftheEarth,definingtheplate’sbottomboundaryhasbeenchallenging.

ArecentstudybytheUniversityofDelaware’sJessicaWarrenandcolleaguesattheUniversityofOxfordandtheUniversityofMinnesota,Twin

Cities,providesanewdatasetthatscientistscanusetounderstandthisproblem.

“Understandingthethicknessoftheplateisimportanttounderstandinghowplatesmovearound,bothwhentheyformatmid­oceanridgesand

lateronwhenthematerialgoesbackdownintotheEarththroughsubductionzonessuchasthoseinCascadia,theAndes,JapanandIndonesia,”

saidWarren,assistantprofessorintheDepartmentofGeologicalSciencesintheCollegeofEarth,Ocean,andEnvironment.

“Italsocanhelpscientistsmodelandpredictfutureearthquakeandvolcanichazards,wheretheymightoccurandhowdeepthedevastation

mightbedependingonwhatthemodelsshow.”

Olivine a robust model of Earth’s interior

Tounderstandwhat’shappeninginsidetheEarth,scientistsmustbecreativebecausestudyingtheinterioroftheEarthinsituisimpossible.

Instead,scientistsstudyhowseismicwavespassthroughtheEarthandtheninvertthesignalthatisreceivedtoreverseengineerwhat’s

happening.Theyalsomodelthethermalpropertiesoftherock,includingwheretemperaturechangesoccur,becausetheyknowthattheinterior

oftheEarthishotterthanthesurfacecrust.

“SciencehasbeentellingusthatwhatwepredictfortemperaturechangeswithintheEarthshouldagreewithwhattheseismicwavesaretelling

us.Theproblemhasbeenthatthesetwomodelsdon’tagree,”saidWarren,apetrologyexpertwhostudiestheoriginofrocksandhowthey

formed.

OnelongstandingargumenthasbeenwhethertheGutenbergdiscontinuity—theidentificationofachangeinseismicproperties—representsthe

bottomoftheplate.

Toinvestigatethisproblem,Warrenandhercolleaguesperformedlaboratoryexperimentsonolivine,themainmineralfoundintheEarth’s

mantle(theupper~250milesoftheplanet).Olivinealsoisthemainmineralinperidotiterock,whichisconsideredtobearobustmodelofthe

interioroftheEarth’scomposition.

Theresearcherstookolivineandaddedmelt(alsoknownasbasalt)tomimichowanewplateiscreatedatamid­oceanridge.Theteamthen

twistedtheolivine­meltmixtureunderhightemperaturesandhighpressuretodeterminetheinfluenceofmeltonthealignmentofolivine

crystals.Theythenusedtheseexperimentstopredicttheseismicsignatureofthisrockandcomparedittotheseismicsignatureassociatedwith

theGutenbergdiscontinuity.

Theteam’sresultsshowedthattheGutenbergdiscontinuitydoesnotdefinethebottomoftheplate,butinsteadiscausedbythepresenceof

olivine­meltmixtureswithintectonicplates.

“I’vespentoveradecadestudyinghowolivinemineralsareorientedinperidotiterocksbecausetheflowpatternsprovideahistoricalrecordof

howtheserocksfromthemantlehavechangedanddeformedovertime,”saysWarren.

Theresearchteam’sresultssuggestthebestwaytomodeltheplatethicknessisbasedonthethermalprofileandtheconductivecoolingthat

occursasaplateages.

“Wethinkthatthebottomoftheplateisbelowwhereyouhaveacoolinginthetemperatureprofile.Itisalayerthatisassociatedwithmelt beingtrappedorfrozenintherockandchangingtheseismicpropertiesintherockthatsubsequentlyproducedthelayerthatwe’reimaging,”she

said.“Byourestimates,thiswouldmeanthatthetectonicplatesintheoceanareapproximately100kilometersorabout62milesthick.”

Theteam’sdataalsooffersanexplanationfortheGuttenbergdiscontinuity,Warrencontinued,sayingthatitcorrespondstomeltthatwas

trappedorfrozenintherockaftermeltingatmid­oceanridges,whichproducedachangeinhowtheseismicwavespassthroughtherock.

Reference:

LarsN.Hansen,ChaoQi,JessicaM.Warren.OlivineanisotropysuggestsGutenbergdiscontinuityisnotthebaseofthelithosphere.Proceedings

oftheNationalAcademyofSciences,2016;113(38):10503DOI:10.1073/pnas.1608269113

Note:TheabovepostisreprintedfrommaterialsprovidedbyUniversityofDelaware.

Share this:             79
Share this:
79
10
Related
In"platetectonics" In"platetectonics" quake   In"earthquake"