Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

20-year study yields precise model of tectonic-plate movements

24.03.2010
A new model of the Earth, 20 years in the making, describes a dynamic three-dimensional puzzle of planetary proportions.

Created by University of Wisconsin-Madison geophysicist Chuck DeMets and longtime collaborators Richard Gordon of Rice University and Donald Argus of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the model offers a precise description of the relative movements of 25 interlocking tectonic plates that account for 97 percent of the Earth's surface.

"This model can be used to predict the movement of one plate relative to any other plate on the Earth's surface," explains DeMets. "Plate tectonics describes almost everything about how the Earth's surface moves and deforms, but it's remarkably simple in a mathematical way."

Tectonic plates are in constant motion, sliding past one another as they float atop the planet's molten interior. The collisions and shifts can create mountain ranges or cause earthquakes like the ones that struck Haiti and Chile this year.

"We live on a dynamic planet, and it's important to understand how the surface of the planet changes," Gordon says. "The frequency and magnitude of earthquakes depend upon how the tectonic plates move. Understanding how plates move can help us understand surface processes like mountain-building and subsurface processes like mantle convection."

The new model, dubbed MORVEL for "mid-ocean ridge velocities," is described in an extensive article available online and slated for the April issue of Geophysical Journal International. The work builds on the collaborators' 1990 paper on tectonic plate velocities that has been cited more than 2,000 times by other scientists. During the past 20 years, the researchers have incorporated more and higher-quality data to improve the model's resolution and precision.

About three-quarters of MORVEL's data come from Earth's mid-ocean ridges, the undersea boundaries between tectonic plates. At these ridges, new crust forms constantly as magma wells up from beneath the planet's surface and forces the plates apart.

To judge how fast the plates are spreading, the team analyzed nearly 2,000 magnetic profiles of the crust formed at mid-ocean ridges in all the major ocean basins. The Earth's magnetic field changes polarity at irregular intervals — most recently about 780,000 years ago — and each time leaves a magnetic mark in the crust akin to a tree ring. Measuring the distances between the marks tells them how quickly new crust is being formed. Most plate boundaries are currently moving at rates of 15 to 200 millimeters per year, DeMets says.

MORVEL also allows scientists to predict future plate movements and identify places where movements have changed over time, areas that are useful for studying the underlying forces that control plate movements.

"Along the boundaries where plates meet there are lots of active faults. It's useful to know how quickly the plates are slipping across those faults because it gives you some feeling about how often large earthquakes might occur," DeMets says. "The direction of movement across the faults gives some indication of whether plates are moving toward one another, which gives rise to one kind of faulting and seismic hazard, or slightly away from each other, which gives rise to another kind of faulting and a different type of seismic hazard."

The model is accessible online at http://www.geology.wisc.edu/~chuck/MORVEL/, a site that can be used to show present-day plate movements by choosing any location in the world.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA.

Chuck DeMets | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Mars’ atmosphere well protected from the solar wind
08.12.2017 | Schwedischer Forschungsrat - The Swedish Research Council

nachricht Study reveals significant role of dust in mountain ecosystems
07.12.2017 | University of Wyoming

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

Im Focus: Virtual Reality for Bacteria

An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications

Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...

Im Focus: A space-time sensor for light-matter interactions

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.

The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...

Im Focus: A transistor of graphene nanoribbons

Transistors based on carbon nanostructures: what sounds like a futuristic dream could be reality in just a few years' time. An international research team working with Empa has now succeeded in producing nanotransistors from graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, as reported in the current issue of the trade journal "Nature Communications."

Graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, so-called graphene nanoribbons, have special electrical properties that make them promising candidates for the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

Blockchain is becoming more important in the energy market

05.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Making fuel out of thick air

08.12.2017 | Life Sciences

Rules for superconductivity mirrored in 'excitonic insulator'

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

Smartphone case offers blood glucose monitoring on the go

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>