Beneath the Pacific: A Multitude of Faults Upend Our Understanding of Plate Tectonics

Published by Redbran - Friday, February 23, 2024 - Other Languages: FR, DE, ES, PT
Source: Geophysical Research Letters

A significant leap in understanding Earth's dynamics has been achieved thanks to a team of geoscientists from the University of Toronto. Their research sheds light on surprising features of the Pacific seafloor, revealing the existence of major underwater faults.


The researchers have discovered that, contrary to the long-held belief that oceanic tectonic plates are rigid, the Pacific Plate is actually crisscrossed by significant faults. These faults, located thousands of meters (several thousand feet) below the ocean's surface and stretching over hundreds of miles, unearth an aspect of plate tectonics previously unknown.

The Pacific Plate is subjected to immense internal forces that push it westward, causing tears along these newly discovered faults.

These faults are mainly situated within vast undersea plateaus formed millions of years ago by the extrusion of molten rock from the Earth's mantle to the ocean floor. Surprisingly, these plateaus, although thicker, show less resistance, making them more prone to tearing under tension.

The research focused on four major plateaus in the Western Pacific Ocean: Ontong Java, Shatsky, Hess, and Manihiki. By using supercomputers and analyzing seismic data, the scientists were able to model these faults and understand their impact on the dynamics of the Pacific Plate.

This study raises questions about the role of these faults in past and present seismic and volcanic activities in the region. Even though accessing these underwater sites is complex and requires significant efforts for further data collection, the researchers hope their work will encourage more extensive exploration.

This discovery not only advances our understanding of plate tectonics but also paves the way for new research on the complex dynamics governing our planet. It serves as a reminder that, despite decades of scientific progress, the Earth still has many secrets to unveil.
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