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Tectonics: Precision is hallmark of 20-year study
Date:3/22/2010

When it comes to three-dimensional puzzles, Rubik's Cube pales in comparison with the latest creation of Rice University geoscientist Richard Gordon. Gordon and collaborators Chuck DeMets of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Donald Argus of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have just put the finishing touches on a 20-year labor of love, a precise description of the relative movements of the interlocking tectonic plates that account for about 97 percent of Earth's surface.

The 25 tectonic plates that form Earth's surface are rigid, but they are in constant motion because they float atop the planet's interior. The plates constantly grind together and slide past one another. When two plates crash into each other, they form mountain ranges like the Himalayas. When they slide past one another, they cause earthquakes like the one that struck Haiti this year.

"We live on a dynamic planet, and it's important to understand how the surface of the planet changes," said Gordon, Rice's W.M. Keck Foundation Chair in Geophysics. "The frequency and magnitude of earthquakes depend upon how the tectonic plates move. Understanding how plates move can help researchers understand surface processes like mountain-building and subsurface processes like mantle convection."

The new model of Earth, dubbed "MORVEL" for "mid-ocean ridge velocities," was developed by Gordon and longtime collaborators DeMets and Argus. A paper describing MORVEL is available online and due to appear in next month's issue of Geophysical Journal International (GJI). In creating MORVEL, DeMets, Gordon and Argus are essentially one-upping themselves: Their 1990 paper on tectonic plate velocities has been cited more than 2,000 times by other scientists.

"At the time that one came out, Chuck and I were out on an airplane in the Indian Ocean collecting more than 60,000 kilometers of new magnetic profiles south and southwest of the Maldives," Gordon sa
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Contact: David Ruth
druth@rice.edu
713-348-6327
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert  

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