by Geggel L., May 21, 2020 in LiveScience
The giant tectonic plate under the Indian Ocean is going through a rocky breakup … with itself.
In a short time (geologically speaking) this plate will split in two, a new study finds.
To humans, however, this breakup will take an eternity. The plate, known as the India-Australia-Capricorn tectonic plate, is splitting at a snail’s pace — about 0.06 inches (1.7 millimeters) a year. Put another way, in 1 million years, the plate’s two pieces will be about 1 mile (1.7 kilometers) farther apart than they are now.
“It’s not a structure that is moving fast, but it’s still significant compared to other planet boundaries,” said study co-researcher Aurélie Coudurier-Curveur, a senior research fellow of marine geosciences at the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris.
For instance, the Dead Sea Fault in the Middle East is moving at about double that rate, or 0.2 inches (0.4 centimeters) a year, while the San Andreas Fault in California is moving about 10 times faster, at about 0.7 inches (1.8 cm) a year.
The plate is splitting so slowly and it’s so far underwater, researchers almost missed what they’re calling the “nascent plate boundary.” But two enormous clues — that is, two strong earthquakes originating in a strange spot in the Indian Ocean — suggested that Earth-changing forces were afoot.
On April 11, 2012, a magnitude-8.6 and magnitude-8.2 earthquake hit beneath the Indian Ocean, near Indonesia. The earthquakes didn’t happen along a subduction zone, where one tectonic plate slides under another. Instead, these quakes originated in a weird place for earthquakes to happen — in the middle of the plate.