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The Earth’s Mantle Is Torn Apart Under Tibet, Triggering Earthquakes In The Region

Aug 01, 2018 09:49 PM EDT
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Deep, deep down underneath the surface of Tibet, there are huge cracks on the mantle that have triggered earthquakes in odd regions of the country.

The Indian and Asian tectonic plates crashed together 50 million years ago, but scientists have been less certain of its state at present. Getting a glimpse of what lies beneath the planet's surface is tricky, after all.

Now, a new computer model is able examine the Tibetan Plateau in unprecedented detail, shedding valuable information on the geological processes that have been giving rise to significant natural events such as earthquakes.

Study Takes A Look At What's Under The Tibetan Plateau

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers reveal that they designed a model that has identified massive tears in the Earth's mantle underneath Tibet. Using seismic waves, the team found four cracked pieces that each slant at a different angle and distance from the original tear.

Specifically, the cracks are on the upper mantle layer of the Indian tectonic plate that runs under the Tibetan Plataeu. Its existence lines up well with the earthquake activity and scientist observations of the region, including deformation patterns on the surface such as unusual north-south rifts.

Cracks Explain Series Of Strangely Positioned Earthquakes

This study also shed light on the nature of the unexplained earthquakes in odd regions of Tibet.

"What were previously thought of as unusual locations for some of the intercontinental earthquakes in the southern Tibetan Plateau seem to make more sense now after looking at this model," coauthor Jiangtao Li, a graduate student, says in a statement in the University of Illinois. "There is a striking correlation with the location of the earthquakes and the orientation of the fragmented Indian upper mantle."

Tears determine how much of the core's heat makes its way to the mantle and crust. The crust regions right above the tears are exposed to more heat from the mantle, which makes it more malleable and less susceptible to earthquakes. On the other hand, the intact areas in between the tears are strong and less flexible, so it can accumulate strain that eventually leads to earthquakes.

As Science Alert notes, finding these tears can save lives by alerting vulnerable regions of the greater potential for such events.

"Overall, our new research suggests that we need to take a deeper view to understand the Himalayan-Tibetan continental deformation and evolution," coauthor Xiaodong Song, a geology professor at the University of Illinois, says.

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