by D. Middleton, Feb 5, 2021 in WUWT
An upwelling of rock beneath the Atlantic may drive continents apart
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge may play a more active role in plate tectonics than thought
By Maria Temming
FEBRUARY 4, 2021
An upsurge of hot rock from deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean may be driving the continents on either side apart.
The Americas are moving away from Europe and Africa by a few centimeters each year, as the tectonic plates underlying those continents drift apart. Researchers typically think tectonic plates separate as the distant edges of those plates sink down into Earth’s mantle, creating a gap (SN: 1/13/21). Material from the upper mantle then seeps up through the rift between the plates to fill in the seafloor.
But new seismic data from the Atlantic Ocean floor show that hot rock is welling up beneath a seafloor rift called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge from hundreds of kilometers deep in Earth’s mantle. This suggests that material rising up under the ridge is not just a passive response to tectonic plates sliding apart. Rather, deep rock pushing toward Earth’s surface may be driving a wedge between the plates that helps separate them, researchers report online January 27 in Nature.
A better understanding of plate tectonics — which causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions — could help people better prepare for these natural disasters (SN: 9/3/17).