Outer trench swell

The outer trench swell, outer trench high, or outer rise is a subtle ridge on the seafloor near an oceanic trench, where a descending plate begins to flex and fault in preparation for its descent into the mantle at a subduction zone. The lithosphere is bent upwards by plate stresses, and is not in isostatic equilibrium (distinguish from the "outer ridge" of a forearc).

Typically, the gravity field over the outer swell is about 50 mGal (0.5 mm/s²) higher than expected from isostasy, while gravity over the trench is about 200 mGal (2 mm/s²) less than that expected from isostatic considerations.

The bending of the plate is associated with tension in the upper 20 km, and shallow earthquakes, caused by tensional failure induced by the downward bending of the oceanic plate are common; about 20 extensional outer rise earthquakes with magnitude 5 or greater occur annually. Most tension axes are perpendicular to the trench, independent of the direction of relative motion between the two plates, indicating that failure is controlled by bending stresses in the plate. Plate bending also causes deeper (down to 50 km) earthquakes due to compression.

The wavelength and amplitude of this flexure can be used to constrain the state of stress across the plate boundary. The width of the outer rise is directly related to the flexural rigidity of the lithosphere. The thickness of the elastic lithosphere varies between 20 and 30 km for most trench profiles. Faulting related to plate bending and stair-stepping of the descending slab into the trench may allow seawater to infiltrate deep into the crust and perhaps upper mantle. This may lead to large scale formation of serpentinite in the upper mantle of the downgoing plate (Ranero et al., 2003).

Faulting of the downgoing plate results in a horst and graben structure that allows sediment that reaches the trench to be deposited in graben and carried downward. This faulting also breaks up seamounts as they approach the trench. The principal mechanism of frontal erosion may reflect combined effects of seamount tunneling, mass wasting and transport to the trench, deposition in a graben on the downgoing plate, and descent into the mantle.

Outer trench swells are geoscientific frontiers and much remains to be learned about them. Recent volcanoes have been discovered on ~135-million-year-old Pacific Plate east of Japan (Hirano et al., 2006). These small alkalic volcanoes are small percent melts of asthenosphere that exploit bending-related lithospheric faults to reach the seafloor. Hirano et al., (2006) proposed that these small volcanoes erupted along lithospheric fractures in response to plate flexure during subduction. If bending-related faulting and serpentinization is an important process beneath outer trench swells, there are probably also abundant low-temperature hydrothermal vents on the swells, similar to those of the Lost City (hydrothermal field).

Cross-section of a subduction zone and back-arc basin


  • Hirano, N., Takahashi, E., Yamamoto, J., Abe, N., Ingle, S.P., Kaneoka, I., Hirata, T., Kimura, J.-I., Ishii, T., Ogawa, Y., Machida, S., and Suyehiro, K., 2006. "Volcanism in Response to Plate Flexure: Science 313, 1426, doi:10.1126/science.1128235
  • Ranero, C., Morgan, J. P., McIntosh, K., and Reichert, C., 2003. "Bending-related faulting and mantle serpentinization at the Middle America trench". Nature 425, 367–373
  • Stern, R.J., 2002. "Subduction Zones" Reviews of Geophysics, 40, doi:10.1029/2001RG000108
Bahama Banks

The Bahama Banks are the submerged carbonate platforms that make up much of the Bahama Archipelago. The term is usually applied in referring to either the Great Bahama Bank around Andros Island, or the Little Bahama Bank of Grand Bahama Island and Great Abaco, which are the largest of the platforms, and the Cay Sal Bank north of Cuba. The islands of these banks are politically part of the Bahamas. Other banks are the three banks of the Turks and Caicos Islands, namely the Caicos Bank of the Caicos Islands, the bank of the Turks Islands, and wholly submerged Mouchoir Bank. Further southeast are the equally wholly submerged Silver Bank and Navidad Bank north of the Dominican Republic.

Carbonate platform

A carbonate platform is a sedimentary body which possesses topographic relief, and is composed of autochthonic calcareous deposits. Platform growth is mediated by sessile organisms whose skeletons build up the reef or by organisms (usually microbes) which induce carbonate precipitation through their metabolism. Therefore, carbonate platforms can not grow up everywhere: they are not present in places where limiting factors to the life of reef-building organisms exist. Such limiting factors are, among others: light, water temperature, transparency and pH-Value. For example, carbonate sedimentation along the Atlantic South American coasts takes place everywhere but at the mouth of the Amazon River, because of the intense turbidity of the water there. Spectacular examples of present-day carbonate platforms are the Bahama Banks under which the platform is roughly 8 km thick, the Yucatan Peninsula which is up to 2 km thick, the Florida platform, the platform on which the Great Barrier Reef is growing, and the Maldive atolls. All these carbonate platforms and their associated reefs are confined to tropical latitudes. Today's reefs are built mainly by scleractinian corals, but in the distant past other organisms, like archaeocyatha (during the Cambrian) or extinct cnidaria (tabulata and rugosa) were important reef builders.

Izu–Bonin–Mariana Arc

The Izu–Bonin–Mariana (IBM) arc system is a tectonic-plate convergent boundary. The IBM arc system extends over 2800 km south from Tokyo, Japan, to beyond Guam, and includes the Izu Islands, Bonin Islands, and Mariana Islands; much more of the IBM arc system is submerged below sealevel. The IBM arc system lies along the eastern margin of the Philippine Sea Plate in the Western Pacific Ocean. It is the site of the deepest gash in Earth's solid surface, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.

The IBM arc system formed as a result of subduction of the western Pacific plate. The IBM arc system now subducts mid-Jurassic to Early Cretaceous lithosphere, with younger lithosphere in the north and older lithosphere in the south, including the oldest (~170 million years old, or Ma) oceanic crust. Subduction rates vary from ~2 cm (1 inch) per year in the south to 6 cm (~2.5 inches) in the north.

The volcanic islands that comprise these island arcs are thought to have been formed from the release of volatiles (steam from trapped water, and other gases) being released from the subducted plate, as it reached sufficient depth for the temperature to cause release of these materials. The associated trenches are formed as the oldest (most western) part of the Pacific plate crust increases in density with age, and because of this process finally reaches its lowest point just as it subducts under the crust to the west of it.

The IBM arc system is an excellent example of an intra-oceanic convergent margin (IOCM). IOCMs are built on oceanic crust and contrast fundamentally with island arc built on continental crust, such as Japan or the Andes. Because IOCM crust is thinner, denser, and more refractory than that beneath Andean-type margins, study of IOCM melts and fluids allows more confident assessment of mantle-to-crust fluxes and processes than is possible for Andean-type convergent margins. Because IOCMs are far removed from continents they are not affected by the large volume of alluvial and glacial sediments. The consequent thin sedimentary cover makes it much easier to study arc infrastructure and determine the mass and composition of subducted sediments. Active hydrothermal systems found on the submarine parts of IOCMs give us a chance to study how many of earth's important ore deposits formed.

List of submarine volcanoes

A list of active and extinct submarine volcanoes and seamounts located under the world's oceans. There are estimated to be 40,000 to 55,000 seamounts in the global oceans. Almost all are not well-mapped and many may not have been identified at all. Most are unnamed and unexplored. This list is therefore confined to seamounts that are notable enough to have been named and/or explored.

Oceanic plateau

An oceanic or submarine plateau is a large, relatively flat elevation that is higher than the surrounding relief with one or more relatively steep sides.There are 184 oceanic plateaus covering an area of 18,486,600 km2 (7,137,700 sq mi), or about 5.11% of the oceans. The South Pacific region around Australia and New Zealand contains the greatest number of oceanic plateaus (see map).

Oceanic plateaus produced by large igneous provinces are often associated with hotspots, mantle plumes, and volcanic islands — such as Iceland, Hawaii, Cape Verde, and Kerguelen. The three largest plateaus, the Caribbean, Ontong Java, and Mid-Pacific Mountains, are located on thermal swells. Other oceanic plateaus, however, are made of rifted continental crust, for example Falkland Plateau, Lord Howe Rise, and parts of Kerguelen, Seychelles, and Arctic ridges.

Plateaus formed by large igneous provinces were formed by the equivalent of continental flood basalts such as the Deccan Traps in India and the Snake River Plain in the United States.

In contrast to continental flood basalts, most igneous oceanic plateaus erupt through young and thin (6–7 km (3.7–4.3 mi)) mafic or ultra-mafic crust and are therefore uncontaminated by felsic crust and representative for their mantle sources.

These plateaus often rise 2–3 km (1.2–1.9 mi) above the surrounding ocean floor and are more buoyant than oceanic crust. They therefore tend to withstand subduction, more-so when thick and when reaching subduction zones shortly after their formations. As a consequence, they tend to "dock" to continental margins and be preserved as accreted terranes. Such terranes are often better preserved than the exposed parts of continental flood basalts and are therefore a better record of large-scale volcanic eruptions throughout Earth's history. This "docking" also means that oceanic plateaus are important contributors to the growth of continental crust. Their formations often had a dramatic impact on global climate, such as the most recent plateaus formed, the three, large, Cretaceous oceanic plateaus in the Pacific and Indian Ocean: Ontong Java, Kerguelen, and Caribbean.

Oceanic trench

Oceanic trenches are topographic depressions of the sea floor, relatively narrow in width, but very long. These oceanographic features are the deepest parts of the ocean floor. Oceanic trenches are a distinctive morphological feature of convergent plate boundaries, along which lithospheric plates move towards each other at rates that vary from a few millimeters to over ten centimeters per year. A trench marks the position at which the flexed, subducting slab begins to descend beneath another lithospheric slab. Trenches are generally parallel to a volcanic island arc, and about 200 km (120 mi) from a volcanic arc. Oceanic trenches typically extend 3 to 4 km (1.9 to 2.5 mi) below the level of the surrounding oceanic floor. The greatest ocean depth measured is in the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench, at a depth of 11,034 m (36,201 ft) below sea level. Oceanic lithosphere moves into trenches at a global rate of about 3 km2/yr.

Outline of oceanography

The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to Oceanography.

Physical oceanography

Physical oceanography is the study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean, especially the motions and physical properties of ocean waters.

Physical oceanography is one of several sub-domains into which oceanography is divided. Others include biological, chemical and geological oceanography.

Physical oceanography may be subdivided into descriptive and dynamical physical oceanography.Descriptive physical oceanography seeks to research the ocean through observations and complex numerical models, which describe the fluid motions as precisely as possible.

Dynamical physical oceanography focuses primarily upon the processes that govern the motion of fluids with emphasis upon theoretical research and numerical models. These are part of the large field of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics (GFD) that is shared together with meteorology. GFD is a sub field of Fluid dynamics describing flows occurring on spatial and temporal scales that are greatly influenced by the Coriolis force.


A tsunami ( (t)soo-NAH-mee, (t)suu-; from Japanese: 津波, lit. 'harbour wave', pronounced [tsɯnami]) or tidal wave is a series of waves in a water body caused by the displacement of a large volume of water, generally in an ocean or a large lake. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions (including detonations, landslides, glacier calvings, meteorite impacts and other disturbances) above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami. Unlike normal ocean waves, which are generated by wind, or tides, which are generated by the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun, a tsunami is generated by the displacement of water.

Tsunami waves do not resemble normal undersea currents or sea waves because their wavelength is far longer. Rather than appearing as a breaking wave, a tsunami may instead initially resemble a rapidly rising tide. For this reason, it is often referred to as a "tidal wave", although this usage is not favoured by the scientific community because it might give the false impression of a causal relationship between tides and tsunamis. Tsunamis generally consist of a series of waves, with periods ranging from minutes to hours, arriving in a so-called "wave train". Wave heights of tens of metres can be generated by large events. Although the impact of tsunamis is limited to coastal areas, their destructive power can be enormous, and they can affect entire ocean basins. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was among the deadliest natural disasters in human history, with at least 230,000 people killed or missing in 14 countries bordering the Indian Ocean.

The Ancient Greek historian Thucydides suggested in his 5th century BC History of the Peloponnesian War that tsunamis were related to submarine earthquakes, but the understanding of tsunamis remained slim until the 20th century and much remains unknown. Major areas of current research include determining why some large earthquakes do not generate tsunamis while other smaller ones do; accurately forecasting the passage of tsunamis across the oceans; and forecasting how tsunami waves interact with shorelines.

Undersea mountain range

Undersea mountain ranges are mountain ranges that are mostly or entirely underwater, and specifically under the surface of an ocean. If originated from current tectonic forces, they are often referred to as a mid-ocean ridge. In contrast, if formed by past above-water volcanism, they are known as a seamount chain. The largest and best known undersea mountain range is a mid-ocean ridge, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It has been observed that, "similar to those on land, the undersea mountain ranges are the loci of frequent volcanic and earthquake activity".

Wave base

The wave base, in physical oceanography, is the maximum depth at which a water wave's passage causes significant water motion. For water depths deeper than the wave base, bottom sediments and the seafloor are no longer stirred by the wave motion above.

Ocean zones
Sea level

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