Scientists discover that Earth's mantle is moving at TEN TIMES the rate we all thought... Massive changes in tectonic plates can happen 'chaotically'

Jun 02, 2016 12:00 AM

A shocking discovery by scientists shows that the Earth's mantle is moving ten times faster than originally thought, as reported by the Daily Mail. The revelation, which has taken researchers by complete surprise, came after the first comprehensive survey of the Earth's mantle. In fact, it seems that the surface of the planet is literally "bobbing" up and down "like a yo-yo" on a million year scale.

This bizarre and dynamic concept means ten times more activity than geologists originally predicted. So what does it actually mean?

The mantle

The Earth is made up of many layers, with the upper layer – the mantle – being composed mostly of silicate rock and minerals. Here are some quick facts about the Earth's mantle, as reported by Universe Today:

  • The mantle has an average thickness of 1,793 miles.
  • It makes up 84% of the Earth by volume.
  • It is predominantly solid, but behaves like a viscous fluid.
  • Temperatures in this layer are close to melting point.

The mantle is responsible for all of the Earth's volcanic and seismic activity, due to the convection that happens within. Our knowledge and understanding of the mantle and the Earth's tectonic plates is derived from analyses of earthquake waves, heat flow and magnetic studies, according to Universe Today. This makes the recent discovery by scientists both surprising and concerning.

The latest revelation

Given that the movements within the mantle are the source of volcanoes and earthquakes, the latest discovery is very important, as noted by the Daily Mail. Geologists from the University of Cambridge have now found that these movements are occurring much more often than first thought. And while movements in the mantle are responsible for the motion of tectonic plates and the creation of mountains and volcanoes at plate boundaries, the convection currents within are also the source of volcanoes and earthquakes in the middle of tectonic plates.

While analyzing 2,120 spot measurements of variations in the depth of the ocean floor, scientists discovered that there is a surprisingly chaotic pattern to the movements within the mantle – a pattern that did not match their predictions.

Previous models have estimated that the wavelengths of currents within the mantle is about 10,000 kilometers with amplitudes of 2 kilometers. But the recent study found that the wavelengths are just one-tenth of that, with amplitudes half the predicted size, according to the Daily Mail.

This has important implications in terms of trying to predict natural disasters and for the oil and gas industry. Dr. Mark Hoggard, lead author of the paper, stated: "Over a period of a million years, which is our standard unit of measurement, the movement of the mantle can cause the surface to move up and down by hundreds of metres. In geological terms, the Earth's surface bobs up and down like a yo-yo."

The findings may force a rethink of past models of ocean circulation and have an effect on predictions for climate change, since the mapping of the oceans is related to how quickly the sea floor is moving up and down. This means that the current climate change predictions could be brought into question, as their accuracy could be completely off.

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