A new study led by Michigan Technological University geophysicist Aleksey Smirnov reveals that 1.1 billion years ago, the North American tectonic plate scooted along at a blistering 24.6 centimeters—about 10 inches—per year.
While it may not seem to be shattering any speed records, that’s twice as fast as continental plates typically traveled in their wanderings over the earth’s surface back in Precambrian times. Oceanic plates moved that quickly, but they are also much thinner, only 10 to 15 kilometers deep. Continental plates are up to 70 kilometers (43 miles) thick.
These days, tectonic plates—15-20 huge, interlocking pieces that make up the earth’s crust—are even slower. Nevertheless, their movements are partially responsible for geological phenomena like earthquakes, volcanoes and mountain building.
Smirnov’s team made its discovery while investigating a totally different problem.
To talk with Aleksey Smirnov, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (906) 487-2365.
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