Physicists in the US have proven that wax is a perfect model of the ocean floors. Using a tub of wax, geophysicists at Cornell and Columbia have produced a predictive model of tectonic microplates – one of the most important and poorly understood features of plate tectonics – for the first time. This research is reported today in the New Journal of Physics (www.njp.org) published jointly by the Institute of Physics and the German Physical Society (Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft).
This breakthrough gives scientists a clearer understanding of the mechanisms of plate tectonics: how the landmasses of the Earth shift and change over time, how earthquakes are generated, volcanoes erupt, and precious metals are concentrated in rich seams. Tectonic microplates could also help identify whether this process, which many scientists argue was a key factor in triggering the evolution of life on Earth, occurs on other bodies in the Solar System.
Richard Katz, now at Columbia University, and Eberhard Bodenschatz from Cornell University where the research was carried out, have produced the first mathematical model which successfully describes how tectonic microplates – dynamic whirlpools of ocean floor found at mid-ocean ridges - evolve and move over time. Writing in the New Journal of Physics, they announce their model which successfully predicts microplate behaviour as observed in a scale model of the ocean floor: a tank of wax heated from below. Scientists have been using wax to simulate the ocean floor since the 1970s. This research links these ingenious wax models with genuine patterns in the Earths crust for the first time.
David Reid | EurekAlert!
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