The swirl of malleable rock in the earths mantle – located between the earths crust and core – may have greater effect on the earths surface than was once believed, a Purdue research team reports.
Under the boundary between two crustal plates, zones in the mantle with different temperatures swirl together like storm fronts in the atmosphere. Over the millennia, these subterranean warm and cold fronts produce storms in the mantle that can move mountains up on the crust. (Image provided by Scott D. King)
Seen from below, a cold region (colored blue) is sandwiched between two warmer regions (yellow). Over millions of years, these subterranean "storms" can affect the motion of the crust and alter geographical features on the surface, as evidenced by the dramatic angle in the Hawaii-Emperor seamount chain. (Image provided by Scott D. King)
Using computer technology to create three-dimensional models of the earths mantle, Purdues Scott King has found evidence that some dramatic features of the earths surface could be the result of relatively rapid shifts in the direction in which crustal plates move. Rather than simply drifting along in straight lines over millions of years, plates can be pushed aside or even be made to reverse direction due to convection in the mantle far beneath them.
"This is not an idea that has been seriously considered before," said King, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences. "Up until this point, plates were thought to change direction more or less independently from the slow-moving mantle. But with the aid of better computer technology, now we are beginning to realize that they are interconnected. The third dimension is important – we have to consider the earths depths if we are ever to understand its surface."
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