Seismologists get to the bottom of how deep Earth’s continents go | Science News

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Seismologists get to the bottom of how deep Earth’s continents go

Analysis of seismic waves finds runny rock layer where landmass ends

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5:46pm, August 15, 2017
hiker taking in view of mountains

ROCK BOTTOM  Earthquake vibrations are helping seismologists measure the depth of the ground we stand on.

Earthquake vibrations are revealing just how deep the continents beneath our feet go.

Researchers analyzed seismic waves from earthquakes that have rocked various regions throughout the world, including the Americas, Antarctica and Africa. In almost every place, patterns in these waves indicated a layer of partially melted material between 130 and 190 kilometers underground.

That boundary marks the bottom of continental plates, argue Saikiran Tharimena, a seismologist at the University of Southampton in England, and colleagues. Their finding, reported in the Aug. 11 Science, may help resolve a longtime debate over the thickness of Earth’s landmasses.

Estimating continental depth “has been an issue that’s plagued scientists for quite a while,” says Tim Stern, a geophysicist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, who wasn’t involved in the

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