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Quakes under Pacific floor reveal unexpected circulatory system
Date:1/9/2008

o record tiny, shallow earthquakesin this study, 7,000 of them, over 7 months in 2003 and 2004. Using new techniques developed by Lamont seismologist Felix Waldhauser, the quakes were located with great precision. They cluster neatly, outlining the cold waters apparent entrance. It dives straight down through the ridge about 700 meters, then fans out into a horizontal band about 200 meters wide before bottoming out at about 1.5 kilometers, just above the magma. Heated water rises back up through a dozen vents about 2 kilometers north along the ridge. The researchers interpret the quakes as the result of cold water passing through hot rocks and picking up their heata process that shrinks the rocks, and cracks them, creating the small quakes.

The downflow zone is thought to have been formed initially by a kink in the ridge, which stresses the rock enough to crack it mechanically. Seawater, forced down into the resulting space, eventually gets heated by the magma, then rises back to the seafloormuch the same process seen in a pot of boiling water. Tolstoy and her coauthors believe the water travels not through large faultsthe model previously favored by some scientists--but through systems of tiny cracks. Furthermore, their calculations suggest that the water moves a lot faster than previously thoughtperhaps a billion gallons per year through this particular system. Their chart of the waters route is reinforced by biologists observations from submersible dives that the area around the downflow chimney is more or less lifeless, while the surging vents are a riot of bacterial mats, mussels, tubeworms, and other weird creatures that thrive off the heat and chemicals.

Its an exciting and substantial contribution. It begins to look at some really big questions, said Dan Fornari, a marine geologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was not involved in the study. Among other things, it is a mystery where vent organisms came from-
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Contact: Kevin Krajick
kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu
212-854-9729
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Source:Eurekalert  

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