Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Listening in on the birth pangs of Earth's crust

27.11.2006
Field work brings a taste of the unexpected

Scientific business-as-usual became an adventure in ocean floor geol-ogy for Donald Forsyth, Alberto Saal and their students when the instruments they were sup-posed to retrieve for another scientist went missing. The researchers quickly collected samples and data that strongly suggested they had just missed a major episode of seafloor spreading -- and the missing instruments had been buried in lava.

Forsyth and Saal, professors of geology at Brown University, were returning from a research cruise to map an area of seafloor near the Galapagos Islands last April, along with seven Brown graduate students and four undergraduates. The cruise route took the ship right by a highly-studied section of the mid-ocean ridge called the East Pacific Rise. The area had experienced an episode of seafloor spreading in 1991 and was being closely monitored as part of the RIDGE2000 program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

A team of researchers headed by Maya Tolstoy, a geologist at Columbia's Earth Institute, had placed an array of ocean-bottom seismometers (OBS) at the spot in 2003 and collected data from the vibration-recording devices at least once a year. With ship-time at a premium, it's common for a research ship to make a quick stop to download such data. The task should have been simple. The seismometers are anchored to the seafloor by a mecha-nism that will release them and allow them to float to the surface when triggered by an acoustic signal. The crew and researchers scoop up the microwave-oven sized devices and return them to shore, replacing them with new ones that will monitor seismic activity for the next year. It's un-common for an OBS to be lost due to mechanical malfunction.

This time, however, the crew was only able to recover four of the 12 instruments that should have been there. Five instruments did not even acknowledge the anchor release command. Three others signaled that the command had been received, but did not release the devices. The ones they could recover were also the farthest away from the axial summit trough, the ridge where magma rises, creating fresh crust as the seafloor plates separate.

That information, together with a pattern of increasing seismic activity at the site over the past two years, told them that the seismometers might well have been swallowed up by the very erup-tion they were supposed to measure. Though they had little extra time in the cruise schedule and lacked the cameras or submersible that would have been ideal for investigating the mysterious disappearance, the team got to work gathering as much data as they could before heading back to port in San Diego.

They found that the water over the spreading site was warmer and murkier than the surrounding seawater – just as it would have been had there been a recent eruption or spreading event. A quickly-deployed dredge also yielded chunks of freshly deposited glass and lavas that appeared to be coated with a layer of bacteria – characteristic of what grows in the seafloor vents.

"It wasn't a sure thing," says Forsyth, "but we were pretty confident. The OBS's were gone. We had the light scattering and the really fresh rocks with no sediment accumulation. For all we knew it might have just erupted."

Forsyth contacted the Columbia researchers and the RIDGE2000 rapid response team, who quickly arranged for a visit by the R/V New Horizon, carrying a deep-sea camera that could be towed directly over the site. When the visual images became available, it was clear that most of the seismometers had indeed been enveloped in lava, and one had even been carried away from its original location on an undersea flow.

So far, Tolstoy's team has only been able to recover data from two of the 12 instruments, but those two provide a detailed picture of the vibrations that precede a spreading event. For the first time, researchers had an ear to earth's belly as new crust was being born. The data from the two seismometers and the on-site observations will appear online at the Science Express web site, on Thursday, November 23, 2006.

The data they have draws a picture of increasingly frequent cracking events – building to a cres-cendo in late January 2006. Over a period of about six hours, magma appears to have broken through the ridge, briefly filled the trough along 18 kilometers of ridge summit, and flowed up to a kilometer out onto the seafloor. The biggest vibrations were seen during the first hour of this period, suggesting that magma broke through first in one location and then fed the rest of the eruption.

Within about a week after this key event, the vibrations returned to the baseline levels seen when the seismometers were first deployed in 2003. Similarly, the Brown students have returned to their usual activities, but they won't soon forget their chance to see geology in action.

Martha Downs | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.brown.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht A promising target in the quest for a 1-million-year-old Antarctic ice core
24.05.2018 | University of Washington

nachricht Tropical Peat Swamps: Restoration of Endangered Carbon Reservoirs
24.05.2018 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

If solubilty is the problem - Mechanochemistry is the solution

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

Investigating cell membranes: researchers develop a substance mimicking a vital membrane component

25.05.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research

When corals eat plastics

24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>