MADISON, Wis., March 23 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve created a model precisely describing the movements of the 25 tectonic plates that account for about 97 percent of Earth’s surface.
The project, which took 20 years to complete, is said to describe a dynamic three-dimensional puzzle of planetary proportions.
The model was created by University of Wisconsin-Madison geophysicist Chuck DeMets, Richard Gordon of Rice University and Donald Argus of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“This model can be used to predict the movement of one plate relative to any other plate on the Earth’s surface,” DeMets said. “Plate tectonics describe almost everything about how the Earth’s surface moves and deforms, but it’s remarkably simple in a mathematical way.”
The researchers said Earth’s tectonic plates are in constant motion, sliding past one another as they float atop the planet’s molten interior. The collisions and shifts can create mountain ranges or cause earthquakes, such as the ones that struck Haiti and Chile this year.
“We live on a dynamic planet, and it’s important to understand how the surface of the planet changes,” Gordon says. “The frequency and magnitude of earthquakes depend upon how the tectonic plates move. Understanding how plates move can help us understand surface processes like mountain-building and subsurface processes like mantle convection.”
The research is to be reported in the April issue of the Geophysical Journal International.
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