Pacific Plate Being Torn Apart near Japan, Study Reveals

Researchers from the University of Toronto have discovered that the Pacific Plate is Being pulled apart from Japan to New Zealand.

Earth is a rocky planet, which means it has an outer shell, known as the lithosphere, which is divided into several rigid plates.

These plates float in the semi-fluid asthenosphere beneath them. The movement of these plates is a key feature of plate tectonics and a new study now shows that the Pacific plate is being pulled apart.

Geoscientists from the University of Toronto found that the plate is scored by large undersea faults that are thousands of meters deep and hundreds of kilometres long.

The team was surprised to find that the geological deformation, a regular feature on the continental plate interiors, is also happening to the ocean plate.

“We knew that geological deformations like faults happen on the continental plate interiors far from plate boundaries,” says Erkan Gun, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at U of T Scarborough. “But we didn’t know the same thing was happening to ocean plates.”

The Pacific plate consists of most of the Pacific Ocean floor and has been drifting westwards to plunge into the Earth’s mantle along undersea trenches or subduction zones that run from Japan to New Zealand and Australia. Researchers said that as the western edge of the plate is pulled down into the mantle, it drags the rest of the plate with it like a tablecloth being pulled from a table.

“It was thought that because the sub-oceanic plateaus are thicker, they should be stronger,” says Gun. “But our models and seismic data show it’s the opposite: the plateaus are weaker.”

They studied four plateaus in the western Pacific Ocean – the Ontong Java, Shatsky, Hess, and Manihiki – in a vast area roughly bounded by Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.

A supercomputer was then pressed into action to create a model with the existing data that revealed the big changes. The findings of the study have been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“A new finding like this overturns what we’ve understood and taught about the active Earth, and it shows that there are still radical mysteries about even the grand operation of our evolving planet,” Gunn added.

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