Magazine article USA TODAY

Where We Live Forged by "Superpiles"

Magazine article USA TODAY

Where We Live Forged by "Superpiles"

Article excerpt

Two giant plumes of hot rock deep within the Earth are linked to the plate motions that shape the continents, according to researchers at Ohio State University, Columbus. The two superplumes, one beneath Hawaii and the other under Africa, likely have existed for at least 200,-000,000 years, explains Wendy Panero, assistant professor of earth sciences. The giant plumes--or "superpiles"--rise from the bottom of Earth's mantle, just above the planet's core. Each is larger than the continental U.S. and 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 unclear which one spawned the other. 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 don't know if it's 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 200,000,000 years ago," Panero suggests. The supercontinent was Pangea, and its breakup eventually led to the seven continents we know today.

Scientists first proposed the existence of superpiles more than a decade ago. Earthquakes offer an opportunity to study them, since they slow the seismic waves that pass through them. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.