MadSci Network: Earth Sciences

Re: What is bathymetry of oceans in relation to plate tetonics?

Date: Fri Mar 26 12:37:57 1999
Posted By: Eder Molina, Researcher PhD, Dept. of Geophysics, Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics - USP
Area of science: Earth Sciences
ID: 922244291.Es

The plate tectonics theory states that the outermost layer of the
Earth (the first 100 km, in average) is divided in plates, that
we call lithospheric plates. The interaction of these plates 
(colision, spreading, displacement) are part of the process of
plate tectonics.

The plate tectonics evolved from an old idea postulated by
Alfred Wegener, by the beginning of the century, called
continental drift. This early theory stated that the continents
were joined together in the past in a supercontinent called
Pangea, that broke up into two big masses: Gondwana and Laurasia.

Some problems with this theory, in particular the inexistence of
a mecanism that could explain the enormous forces that should be
necessary to move the plates, contributed to the theory to be
put apart for decades.

In the early 1960's, some geophysical discoveries evidenced that
this theory should be revisited, among them:
- the bathymetry showed that the ocean floor have many topographic
features, and additionally, the oceanic crust was much younger than
expected (this was discovered by the thickness of the sediments;
if the oceanic crust had the 3-4 billion years that was supposed,
there should be many km of sediments deposited, what was not
true by the measurements);
- the magnetic patterns in the seafloor;
- the distribution of earthquakes along some zones, and not globally

So, the bathymetry helped to revisit the continental drift theory,
and reformulate to evolve to the plate tectonic theory.

If you need any further explanation, please feel free to contact me.

Eder C. Molina
Dept. of Geophysics
Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics
University of Sao Paulo - USP

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