Scientists have discovered a previously unknown structure located around 100 kilometers below the earth’s surface.
This strange opening in the middle layer of the earth, which scientists call a geological “secret passage”, was discovered below Panama – a country on the land bridge between Central and South America with astonishingly few active volcanoes.
The region lies on a line of volcanoes known as the Central American Volcanic Arc, created by a subduction zone that pushes the tectonic coconut plate in the eastern Pacific under the continental crust of the tectonic plates of North America, the Caribbean, and Panama.
Panama, which lies along this zone, is supposed to have a significant amount of volcanism, but for some unknown reason it is relatively quiet – a mystery that has preoccupied scientists for years.
Like a team of scientists led by geochemist David Bekaert from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts in their journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published study, they may finally have found an answer to it.
They discovered an opening in the coconut plate that is pushed towards the center of the earth, allowing material to flow from side to side, sparing Panama from the brunt of volcanic activity.
This discovery came about when they were trying to determine the reason why some exotic geochemical signatures very similar to those on the Galápagos Islands can be found in certain places in Central America, namely in western Panama and behind the volcanic arch in Costa Rica.
Because that was strange and there was no clear explanation of how the elements of the mantle could get from the Galápagos Islands to Panama. The researchers then turned to the earth’s mantle seismic survey, which uses earthquake waves to map what is below the surface, and tried to use computer models to explain what could be going on.
So they found that deep under Panama, in the buried parts of the coconut plate, the answer could be.
When one tectonic plate slides under another tectonic plate during subduction, the subducting plate does not simply disappear, but rather maintains its structure as it slides down into the earth’s mantle, only gradually heating and deforming. And directly under Panama there is a hole, a “window” through the plate, which allows this cladding component to flow in.
This window can be the result of a natural, pre-existing crack in the subducting coconut crust, or it can be a location where the crust cracked during subduction. In any case, he lets materials through from one side of the panel to the other – like a breath of wind through an open window.
The question remains what drives this flow of material, and the researchers have found two explanations. The first is as the materials move through the Panama Fracture Zone, a fracture zone in the crust and upper mantle that connects the Galápagos Islands with Panama.
However, it is difficult to see what could trigger material transport through this long zone and it is not clear whether such transport is even possible.
The more likely scenario, the researchers say, is that the typical large-scale circulation of the earth’s mantle simply drives material through the opening in the subducting plate.
The existence of the mantle window can also explain the lack of active volcanoes in Panama, water trapped in the crust by subducting plates favors the formation of volcanoes as water lowers the melting point of rocks, which leads to the formation of magma.
The opening in the plate below Panama means that there is a gap in the water-rich crust at this point, which in turn means that it is more difficult to let melting magma flow into it.
The mantle river discovered by the team has not yet been adequately researched, the next step is to carry out a similar analysis in Chile and ultimately expand it to the entire globe.
© Fernando Calvo for terra-mystica.jimdofree.com am 21.12.2021
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