Year in review: Pacific Plate slides over slick layer | Science News

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Year in review: Pacific Plate slides over slick layer

Mantle might not drive movements after all

6:52am, December 15, 2015
ship ocean

SHAKY GROUND  Researchers drag sensors across the ocean near New Zealand to study ocean floor vibrations, adding data to the debate about how the Earth moves deep underground.

With 6,000 kilograms of dynamite and an ear to the ground, a team of geologists shook the understanding of plate tectonics this year.

Ricocheting vibrations from the dynamite blasts, intentionally set off over two nights in New Zealand, gave geologists their first clear glimpse of the underside of a tectonic plate. The work revealed an underlying layer of partially melted rock, 100 kilometers belowground and 10 kilometers thick, that lubricates the motion of the Pacific Plate (SN: 3/7/15, p. 6).

The finding is “remarkable,” says geophysicist Simon Klemperer of Stanford University. “Explaining how these plates move is one of

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