A SCIENTIFIC investigation has revealed that the Atlantic Ocean is widening due to a geological phenomenon.
The results reveal that increasing matter deep within the earth’s crust appears to be pulling the continents of North America and South America away from Europe and Africa, a phenomenon never before observed.
New research published in the journal Nature has found that plates attached to the Americas are moving away from those attached to Europe and Africa by four centimetres per year. Between these continents is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a site where new plates are formed and a dividing line between plates that move westward and those that move east.
Below this ridge, material rises to replace the space left by the plates when they separate.
It was always thought that this process was driven by distant gravity forces as the densest parts of the plates sink back into Earth.
However, the driving force behind the separation of the Atlantic plates remained a mystery because the Atlantic Ocean is not surrounded by dense sinking plates.
Now, a team of seismologists, led by the University of Southampton (UK), has found evidence of an outcrop in the mantle, the material between the earth’s crust and its core, from depths of more than 600 kilometres below the mountain range of the Mid-Atlantic, which could be pushing the plates from below and causing the continents to move further apart.
The findings provide a greater understanding of the plate tectonics that causes many natural disasters around the world, including earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.
Lead author Matthew Agius, a former postdoctoral fellow at the University of Southampton and currently at the Università degli studi Roma Tre, explained in a statement: “This was a memorable mission that took us a total of 10 weeks at sea in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The incredible results shed new light on our understanding of how the interior of the Earth is connected to plate tectonics, with observations never seen before.”
In addition to helping scientists develop better models and warning systems for natural disasters, plate tectonics also has an impact on sea level and therefore affects estimates of climate change on geological time scales.
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