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Hidden Layer Found Beneath Earth’s Tectonic Plates

An illustration of a hidden layer found beneath Earth's plate tectonics. YAYIMAGES.
published

Scientists have discovered an entirely new, hidden layer beneath Earth's tectonic plates, and it helps scientists better understand our planet's interior.

It is true that we know more about outer space and the universe than we know about Earth’s oceans and the different kinds of layers that sit beneath our feet. But scientists are investing great effort in changing this. Now, experts have reported discovering a completely new layer that sits beneath our planet’s plate tectonics, and its discovery comes somewhat as a surprise. The layer, composed of partly molten rock, could help scientists better understand how tectonic plates on Earth make their way across the planet, and settle, along the way, a long-standing scientific debate concerning their movement.

A hidden layer beneath Earth’s tectonic plates

The molten layer was found a little over 160 kilometers beneath the surface and is part of the so-called asthenosphere. This layer is of great importance as it forms a soft border that allows tectonic plates to move across the mantle. But to the surprise of scientists, they discovered that the melt does not seem to influence the flow of the mantle rocks noticeably. Why this layer is characterized by such softness remains an enigma scientists hope will solve in the near future. Previous beliefs held that molten rocks could be n important factor. However, the new study contradicts this and shows that it does not seem to play a huge role in the flow of mantle rocks.

Thorsten Becker, the co-author of the paper and a scientist at UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences, explains that “We can’t rule out that locally melt doesn’t matter, but I think it drives us to see these observations of melt as a marker of what’s going on in the Earth, and not necessarily an active contribution to anything.” The research paper detailing the discovery was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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