News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Previously unknown ocean mountains and ridges reported in new Science study, ridge under Gulf of Mexico as wide as Texas, shifting tectonic plates on ocean floors release molten magma, new ridges form-Reuters

10/2/14, "Uncharted ocean mountains, trenches and ridges revealed by satellite map," Reuters via UK Guardian

Red dots mark earthquakes
"Previously unknown features of the ocean floor include an ocean ridge under the Gulf of Mexico as wide as Texas." 

"Scientists have devised a new map of the Earth’s seafloor using satellite data, revealing massive underwater scars and thousands of previously uncharted sea mountains in some of the deepest, most remote reaches of the world’s oceans. 

The researchers used gravity measurements of the seafloor from radar equipment aboard the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite and NASA’s Jason-1 satellite to capture underwater geological features in unprecedented detail. 

The pull of gravity reflects the topography and tectonics of the seafloor, said David Sandwell, a geophysicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego who led the study, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday. 

University of Sydney geophysicist Dietmar Muller, another of the researchers, said about 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water and roughly 90% of the seafloor is uncharted by survey ships that employ acoustic beams to map the depths. 

We know much more about the topography of Mars than we know about Earth’s seafloor,” Muller said. “The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 earlier this year has heightened global awareness of the poor knowledge of our ocean depths.”

The map reveals major seafloor and sub-seafloor structures such as trenches, ridges and scars. They include a mid-ocean ridge beneath the Gulf of Mexico with a length about equal to the width of Texas as well as another ridge under the South Atlantic west of Angola about 800 km (500 miles) long that was formed just after the continent of South America separated from Africa. 

Such “spreading ridges” are cracks in the Earth formed where the planet’s tectonic plates moved apart and molten material called magma came up to fill them, the researchers said.

“Knowing where and when such ridges existed is essential for deciphering planet Earth’s geological past,” Muller said. 

The new map also provides details on thousands of undersea mountains, or seamounts, rising 1.6 km or more from the seafloor, the researchers said. Some are covered by many layers of sediments, they said. 

In addition to the pure scientific value, the new map could have applications for militaries and for oil exploration, Sandwell said. 

Muller said the conclusions the researchers made about seabed topography may be less accurate than acoustic beam methods employed by ships. 

But the global coverage is much better and our method is much cheaper, especially as we are mostly using satellite data that were collected for another purpose,” added Muller, who estimated that a complete survey of the deep ocean using ships would cost between $2-3bn and would take many years. 

CryoSat-2 was dedicated to monitoring changes in the thickness of marine ice floating in the polar oceans and variations in the thickness of the vast ice sheets that overlie Greenland and Antarctica. Jason-1 was dedicated to map the change in the topography of the oceans due to ocean currents."

Image: "Scientists have devised a new map of the Earth's seafloor using satellite data. This image of the north Atlantic by David Sandwell of the Univeristy of California in San Diego shows red dots marking the locations of earthquakes above 5.5 magnitude. Photograph: Reuters"



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