Our planet is continually spewing molten magma upwards to make new crusts, a process that is important to the planet’s overall metabolism. However new research has found that an area at the Guyamas basin the Gulf of California is not acting as it should be.
The magma is spewing upwards, but instead of being focused out through volcano-like openings at the tectonic plate boundary, it is spreading out up to ten times as far as is normally seen, and intruding up through the seafloor sediments up to 50 kilometres away from the seafloor ridge.
“What we see is something that is surprising to a lot of people,” said Dan Lizarralde, who led the team that observed evidence of the new type of ocean-crust formation. “People are like, ‘How can the magma do that?’” But given the geology of this narrow-rift region, he says, the phenomenon “makes a lot of sense.” Most undersea volcanic areas are able to “focus” magma intrusion up through an opening that is only about 1 or 2 km wide, he says. “Whatever it is that’s different about Guaymas has something to do with controlling these focusing mechanisms.”
Many science disciplines are going to want to study this new phenomenon. “For biologists, it is the chemo-synthetic communities at the warm seeps,” said geologist S. Adam Soule, a member of the WHOI research team. “Geologists want to know what they can learn about magmatism and how the ocean crust is built. And for climate scientists, it is critical that we have an accurate characterization of tectonic settings that are sources and sinks of carbon.”
Source: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution