Academic journal article The Science Teacher

"Superpiles" May Have Shaped Continents

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

"Superpiles" May Have Shaped Continents

Article excerpt

Two giant plumes of hot rock deep within Earth are linked to the plate motions that shape the continents, researchers have found. The two superplumes, one beneath Hawaii and the other beneath Africa, have likely existed for at least 200 million years, explains Wendy Panero, assistant professor of Earth sciences at The Ohio State University.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The giant plumes--or "superpiles" (see [orange] image above) as Panero calls them--rise from the bottom of Earth's mantle, just above our planet's core. Each is larger than the continental United States and is surrounded by a wall of plates from Earth's crust that have sunk into the mantle.

Computer models have connected the piles to the sunken former plates, but it is currently unclear which one spawned the other, Panero says. Plates sink into the mantle as part of the normal processes that shape the continents. But which came first, the piles or the plates, the researchers simply do not know.

"Do these superpiles organize plate motions, or do plate motions organize the superpiles? I do not know if it is truly a chicken-or-egg kind of question, but the locations of the two piles do seem to be related to where the continents are today, and where the last supercontinent would have been 200 million years ago," she says. …

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