Taxonomy term

plate tectonics

Carbon emissions spike when continents rift

The vast majority of Earth’s carbon is stored in the planet’s interior. This buried carbon is not isolated from the surface over geologic timescales, however; some of it is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and other gases when volcanic eruptions occur above subduction zones or island arcs.

19 Mar 2018

Meteorite impacts may have kick-started ancient subduction

Earth in the Hadean Eon, between 4.56 billion and 4 billion years ago, was much too hot to support active plate tectonics as we know it today, where cold, established plates slowly march around Earth. Yet some evidence, including from tiny zircon crystals dating to the Hadean, has suggested that a form of plate tectonics was active by about 4.1 billion years ago — about a billion years before many researchers think modern plate tectonics started. The mechanisms that could have initiated and sustained early tectonics are unclear, but according to a new study, constant bombardment of early Earth by meteorites could have triggered temporary bursts of early tectonism.

22 Feb 2018

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