Why tectonic plates lurch forward when they break

When continents rift, they often do so slowly at first, but then they can suddenly speed up. Why they suddenly go faster instead of rifting at a steady pace has long eluded explanation. But in a new study, researchers suggest that the lithosphere perpetually thins as it rifts, and that after passing a threshold, it snaps like a rope under too much tension, causing plate motions to accelerate.

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Lucas Joel

Lucas Joel was EARTH's 2015 summer intern.

Joel (www.lvjwriting.com) is a freelance science journalist. He has a master's in paleontology from the University of California, Riverside, and is currently based in Boulder, Colo. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 06:00