Taxonomy term

plate tectonics

Stock traders' algorithm finds slow earthquakes

Traders in financial markets use a variety of computer algorithms to help them decide when to buy or sell different stocks. Geologists have now adapted one of these algorithms to improve detection of subtle slow-slip events along faults, paving the way for a better understanding of regional seismic hazards.

02 Aug 2017

The only Earth: Exploring the link between plate tectonics and life on the blue planet

Earth is the only planet known to have plate tectonics and life. Could that be a coincidence? Most geoscientists don't think so. In fact, it seems that plate tectonics is fundamental to life itself.

18 Jun 2017

When and how did plate tectonics begin on Earth?

Earth’s surface is a shifting puzzle of plates that collide and diverge, generating earthquakes, fueling volcanoes, opening ocean basins and raising mountain ranges. But when and how did this process — unique in our solar system as far as we know — begin? 
22 May 2017

Breakup of Pangea led to thicker oceanic crust

Oceanic crust formed at mid-ocean spreading centers, like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is recycled back into the mantle at subduction zones. Aside from isolated chunks that might be even older, the oldest crust found on Earth today is thought to be about 200 million years old. This old crust, portions of which are found along the outer margins of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, is much thicker than the crust being produced today — in some places by almost 2 kilometers — according to a new study, a finding that may suggest that Earth’s supercontinent cycle affects how Earth’s interior cools.

07 Apr 2017

Tectonics trigger underwater volcanism

In 2006, a large eruption occurred on the seafloor about 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Mexico. Geochemical dating of the erupted lava suggested the event went on for up to 10 months. Now, researchers taking a closer look at seismic and audio recordings made during the event have found that the eruption likely occurred over a much shorter period — a matter of days instead of months. The findings shed light on the sequence of events leading up to the event, as well as on the mechanisms of such seafloor eruptions.

21 Mar 2017

Small-scale factors influence mantle flow under the seafloor

In December 2011, scientists and technicians aboard the research vessel Marcus G. Langseth dropped several ocean-bottom seismometers into the deep Pacific more than 1,900 kilometers southeast of Hawaii to measure seismic activity and electrical conductivity to a depth of about 300 kilometers below the seafloor. Now, these measurements are providing new insights into how the mantle flows and deforms below the rigid tectonic plates that make up Earth’s surface.

22 Nov 2016

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.

16 Nov 2016

Geomedia: Books: "Alfred Wegener": The definitive biography of a geoscience star

Today, Alfred Wegener’s name appears in almost every geology textbook. He is celebrated as the father of the continental drift hypothesis, the forerunner of plate tectonics. This recognition is rather recent — since about the early 1970s, when plate tectonics became a unifying theory to explain the origins of continents, oceans, mountains, volcanism and many other geologic processes. During his life, Wegener’s hypothesis was rejected by many geologists, more so in North America than in Europe. The dramatic change of his status from heretic to hero thus makes Wegener’s story even more fascinating, not only to earth scientists but to general readers as well.

22 Sep 2016

Peeling North American Plate causing East Coast earthquakes

On Aug. 23, 2011, a magnitude-5.8 earthquake struck near Mineral, Va., shaking the Piedmont region and damaging several historic buildings in Washington, D.C. The quake caught many people by surprise because the eastern U.S. lies in the interior of the North American Plate, more than 1,500 kilometers from the nearest plate boundary. In a new study, researchers peering beneath the southeastern portion of the North American Plate may have found an explanation for why parts of the region experience more quakes than expected.

31 Aug 2016

Mantle convection makes Earth's crust bob

From the earthquake-prone Himalayas and Andes to the volcanically active “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific, the boundaries of Earth’s tectonic plates are often sites of considerable geologic activity. In contrast, the interiors of tectonic plates have been thought to be relatively rigid and quiet.

18 Aug 2016

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