A team of geologists from Duke University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has discovered a grinding, coordinated ballet of crustal "microplates" unfolding below the equatorial east Pacific Ocean within a construction zone for new seafloor.
The scientists deduced that relatively small sections of the ocean floor there, and perhaps in other similar places, may be slowly rotating like imperfectly meshing cogs in a machine. The unexpected findings provide new insights into the way several ocean ridge segments that border the microplates evolved into their current positions to form part of what is known as a "triple junction," according to the researchers. And these results may be applicable to systems elsewhere, they added. "As often happens in science, what you think youre going to learn doesnt always end up being the exciting thing that you learn," said Emily Klein, the Lee Hill Snowdon Professor at Dukes Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, who is the lead author of a report on the findings published in the Thursday, February 24, 2005 issue of the journal Nature.
Other authors include Deborah Smith, Clare Williams and Hans Schouten of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The groups study, begun aboard the San Diego-based research ship R/V Melville, was supported by the National Science Foundation. Klein, whose specialty is geochemistry, said the scientists original focus was the chemistry and structure of the Incipient Rift, the smallest and newest of four ocean ridge segments in a region of the ocean floor northwest of the Galapagos Islands. Ocean ridges are linear features on the ocean floor where molten magma originating in the earths mantle rises and solidifies to form new ocean crust.
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