ANU research shines light on how new seafloor forms

ANU research shines light on how new seafloor forms

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 — International research led by The Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Southampton has improved understanding of how ocean basins are created as new seafloor is generated along tectonic plate boundaries called mid-ocean ridges.

Lead researcher Dr Caroline Eakin from ANU said the new research provided the first global evidence of how mantle flow beneath oceanic transform faults, which connect the ridge segments, contributed to the seafloor spreading.

“We’ve provided a 3D view of how seafloor spreading takes place. Our findings confirm that upwelling beneath transform faults plays a vital role in stabilising these divergent plate boundaries,” said Dr Eakin from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

“A fundamental feature of this seafloor spreading is the formation of transform faults. The characteristic ridge-transform geometry is a key component of plate tectonics and governs the creation of new seafloor.”

Dr Eakin said mid-ocean ridges were important sites, potentially holding clues for the origin of life on Earth.

“Today, unique ecosystems exist along these ridges. Around volcanic hydrothermal vents the only life on Earth that is entirely independent of sunlight can be found,” she said.

“Mid-ocean ridges are also sites that produce precious metals such as gold and copper. When the heated water is released from hydrothermal vents at these sites, it precipitates mineral deposits on the surface of the seafloor.”  

Dr Eakin said most of Earth’s crust, both now and in the past, was formed along the global mid-ocean ridge system, where two oceanic plates are pulled apart.  

The research was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2017JB015176

 

FOR INTERVIEWS:

Dr Caroline Eakin
Research School of Earth Sciences
ANU College of Science
T: +61 2 6197 0083
M: +61 452 552 594
E: Caroline.Eakin@anu.edu.au

For media assistance, contact Will Wright from ANU media on +612 6125 7979, +61 478 337 740 or <media@anu.edu.au>.

A 3D image of the transform fault on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge from the Passive Imaging of the Lithosphere and Asthenosphere Boundary (PILAB) experiment. Credit: Nick Harmon and Catherine Rychert
A 3D image of the transform fault on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge from the Passive Imaging of the Lithosphere and Asthenosphere Boundary (PILAB) experiment. Credit: Nick Harmon and Catherine Rychert