Plate-Scale, Ocean Geodynamics

Lithospheric movements and interactions at plate boundaries at or beneath the seafloor are responsible for short-term events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. These tectonically active regions are also host to the densest hydrothermal and biological activity in the ocean basins. The degrees to which active plate boundaries influence the ocean from a physical, chemical, and biological perspective are largely unexplored.

plate scale tectonics
Portrayal of the plate-tectonic cycle. Many questions regarding global and plate-scale geodynamics remain unanswered because of the difficulty of making observations over the two-thirds of the planet covered by water, and the inability to instrumentally “capture” episodic events such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Image provided courtesy of the Regional Scale Nodes and Center for Environmental Visualization at the University of Washington.

The persistent plate-scale sensors of the OOI will provide extensive scientific data about plate deformation and its causes and effects. The OOI provides a network of seismographs capable of understanding plate interactions and Earth’s deep structure and geodynamics. The permanence, power, and bandwidth associated with this network will provide critical data that cannot be economically obtained using other approaches.

Examples of Key Scientific Questions

  • What are the properties of the Earth’s core and mantle?
  • What is the pattern of convection in the Earth’s mantle?
  • What factors govern earthquakes, volcanism, and hydrothermal processes along plate boundaries?