Tectonics

Tectonics (from Latin tectonicus; from Ancient Greek τεκτονικός (tektonikos), meaning 'pertaining to building'[1]) is the process that controls the structure and properties of the Earth's crust and its evolution through time. In particular, it describes the processes of mountain building, the growth and behavior of the strong, old cores of continents known as cratons, and the ways in which the relatively rigid plates that constitute the Earth's outer shell interact with each other. Tectonics also provides a framework for understanding the earthquake and volcanic belts that directly affect much of the global population. Tectonic studies are important as guides for economic geologists searching for fossil fuels and ore deposits of metallic and nonmetallic resources. An understanding of tectonic principles is essential to geomorphologists to explain erosion patterns and other Earth surface features.

Plate tectonics map

Main types of tectonic regime

Extensional tectonics

Extensional tectonics is associated with the stretching and thinning of the crust or the lithosphere. This type of tectonics is found at divergent plate boundaries, in continental rifts, during and after a period of continental collision caused by the lateral spreading of the thickened crust formed, at releasing bends in strike-slip faults, in back-arc basins, and on the continental end of passive margin sequences where a detachment layer is present.

Thrust (contractional) tectonics

Thrust tectonics is associated with the shortening and thickening of the crust, or the lithosphere. This type of tectonics is found at zones of continental collision, at restraining bends in strike-slip faults, and at the oceanward part of passive margin sequences where a detachment layer is present.

Strike-slip tectonics

Strike-slip tectonics is associated with the relative lateral movement of parts of the crust or the lithosphere. This type of tectonics is found along oceanic and continental transform faults which connect offset segments of mid-ocean ridges. Strike-slip tectonics also occurs at lateral offsets in extensional and thrust fault systems. In areas involved with plate collisions strike-slip deformation occurs in the over-riding plate in zones of oblique collision and accommodates deformation in the foreland to a collisional belt.

Plate tectonics

In plate tectonics the outermost part of the Earth – the crust and uppermost mantle – are viewed as acting as a single mechanical layer, the lithosphere. The lithosphere is divided into separate "plates" that move relative to each other on the underlying, relatively weak asthenosphere in a process ultimately driven by the continuous loss of heat from the Earth's interior. There are three main types of plate boundaries: divergent, where plates move apart from each other and new lithosphere is formed in the process of sea-floor spreading; transform, where plates slide past each other, and convergent, where plates converge and lithosphere is "consumed" by the process of subduction. Convergent and transform boundaries form the largest structural discontinuities in the lithosphere and are responsible for most of the world's major (Mw > 7) earthquakes. Convergent and divergent boundaries are also the site of most of the world's volcanoes, such as around the Pacific Ring of Fire. Most of the deformation in the lithosphere is related to the interaction between plates, either directly or indirectly.

Other fields of tectonic studies

Salt tectonics

Salt tectonics is concerned with the structural geometries and deformation processes associated with the presence of significant thicknesses of rock salt within a sequence of rocks. This is due both to the low density of salt, which does not increase with burial, and its low strength.

Neotectonics

Neotectonics is the study of the motions and deformations of the Earth's crust (geological and geomorphological processes) that are current or recent in geological time.[2] The term may also refer to the motions and deformations themselves. The corresponding time frame is referred to as the neotectonic period. Accordingly, the preceding time is referred to as palaeotectonic period.

Tectonophysics

Tectonophysics is the study of the physical processes associated with deformation of the crust and mantle from the scale of individual mineral grains up to that of tectonic plates.

Seismotectonics

Seismotectonics is the study of the relationship between earthquakes, active tectonics, and individual faults in a region. It seeks to understand which faults are responsible for seismic activity in an area by analysing a combination of regional tectonics, recent instrumentally recorded events, accounts of historical earthquakes, and geomorphological evidence. This information can then be used to quantify the seismic hazard of an area.

Planetary tectonics

Techniques used in the analysis of tectonics on Earth have also been applied to the study of the planets and their moons.

See also

References

  1. ^ "tectonic". Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ "Encyclopedia of Coastal Science" (2005), Springer, ISBN 978-1-4020-1903-6, Chapter 1: "Tectonics and Neotectonics" doi:10.1007/1-4020-3880-1

Further reading

External links

Accretion (geology)

Accretion, in geology, is a process by which material is added to a tectonic plate or a landmass. This material may be sediment, volcanic arcs, seamounts, or other igneous features.

Alpide belt

The Alpide belt or Alpine-Himalayan orogenic belt is a seismic belt and orogenic belt that includes an array of mountain ranges extending for more than 15,000 km along the southern margin of Eurasia, stretching from Java and Sumatra, through the Indochinese Peninsula, the Himalayas and Transhimalayas, the mountains of Iran, Caucasus, Anatolia, the Mediterranean, and out into the Atlantic. It includes, from west to east, the major ranges of the Atlas Mountains, the Alps, the Caucasus Mountains, Alborz, Hindu Kush, Karakorum, and the majestic Himalayas. It is the second most seismically active region in the world, after the circum-Pacific belt (the Ring of Fire), with 17% of the world's largest earthquakes.The Alpide belt is being created by ongoing plate tectonics such as the Alpine orogeny. The belt is the result of Mesozoic-to-Cenozoic-to-recent closure of the Tethys Ocean and process of collision between the northward-moving African, Arabian and Indian plates with the Eurasian plate.

Asthenosphere

The asthenosphere (from Greek ἀσθενής asthenḗs 'weak' + "sphere") is the highly viscous, mechanically weak and ductilely deforming region of the upper mantle of the Earth. It lies below the lithosphere, at depths between approximately 80 and 200 km (50 and 120 miles) below the surface. The Lithosphere–asthenosphere boundary is usually referred to as LAB. The asthenosphere is almost solid, although some of its regions could be molten (e.g., below mid-ocean ridges). The lower boundary of the asthenosphere is not well defined. The thickness of the asthenosphere depends mainly on the temperature. However, the rheology of the asthenosphere also depends on the rate of deformation, which suggests that the asthenosphere could be also formed as a result of a high rate of deformation. In some regions the asthenosphere could extend as deep as 700 km (430 mi). It is considered the source region of mid-ocean ridge basalt (MORB).

Continental drift

Continental drift is the theory that the Earth's continents have moved over geologic time relative to each other, thus appearing to have "drifted" across the ocean bed. The speculation that continents might have 'drifted' was first put forward by Abraham Ortelius in 1596. The concept was independently and more fully developed by Alfred Wegener in 1912, but his theory was rejected by many for lack of any motive mechanism. Arthur Holmes later proposed mantle convection for that mechanism. The idea of continental drift has since been subsumed by the theory of plate tectonics, which explains that the continents move by riding on plates of the Earth's lithosphere.

Convergent boundary

A convergent boundary is an area on Earth where two or more lithospheric plates collide. One plate eventually slides beneath the other causing a process known as subduction. The subduction zone can be defined by a plane where many earthquakes occur, called the Benioff Zone. These collisions happen on scales of millions to tens of millions of years and can lead to volcanism, earthquakes, orogenesis, destruction of lithosphere, and deformation. Convergent boundaries occur between oceanic-oceanic lithosphere, oceanic-continental lithosphere, and continental-continental lithosphere. The geologic features related to convergent boundaries vary depending on crust types.

Plate tectonics is driven by convection cells in the mantle. Convection cells are the result of heat generated by radioactive decay of elements in the mantle escaping to the surface and the return of cool materials from the surface to the mantle. These convection cells bring hot mantle material to the surface along spreading centers creating new crust. As this new crust is pushed away from the spreading center by the formation of newer crust, it cools, thins, and becomes denser. Subduction initiates when this dense crust converges with the less dense crust. The force of gravity helps drive the subducting slab into the mantle. Evidence supports that the force of gravity will increase plate velocity. As the relatively cool subducting slab sinks deeper into the mantle, it is heated causing dehydration of hydrous minerals. This releases water into the hotter asthenosphere, which leads to partial melting of asthenosphere and volcanism. Both dehydration and partial melting occurs along the 1000 °C isotherm, generally at depths of 65 – 130 km.Some lithospheric plates consist of both continental and oceanic lithosphere. In some instances, initial convergence with another plate will destroy oceanic lithosphere, leading to convergence of two continental plates. Neither continental plate will subduct. It is likely that the plate may break along the boundary of continental and oceanic crust. Seismic tomography reveals pieces of lithosphere that have broken off during convergence.

Crust (geology)

In geology, the crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet, dwarf planet, or natural satellite. It is usually distinguished from the underlying mantle by its chemical makeup; however, in the case of icy satellites, it may be distinguished based on its phase (solid crust vs. liquid mantle).

The crusts of Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Io, and other planetary bodies formed via igneous processes, and were later modified by erosion, impact cratering, volcanism, and sedimentation.

Most terrestrial planets have fairly uniform crusts. Earth, however, has two distinct types: continental crust and oceanic crust. These two types have different chemical compositions and physical properties, and were formed by different geological processes.

Divergent boundary

In plate tectonics, a divergent boundary or divergent plate boundary (also known as a constructive boundary or an extensional boundary) is a linear feature that exists between two tectonic plates that are moving away from each other. Divergent boundaries within continents initially produce rifts, which eventually become rift valleys. Most active divergent plate boundaries occur between oceanic plates and exist as mid-oceanic ridges. Divergent boundaries also form volcanic islands, which occur when the plates move apart to produce gaps that molten lava rises to fill.

Current research indicates that complex convection within the Earth's mantle allows material to rise to the base of the lithosphere beneath each divergent plate boundary.

This supplies the area with vast amounts of heat and a reduction in pressure that melts rock from the asthenosphere (or upper mantle) beneath the rift area, forming large flood basalt or lava flows. Each eruption occurs in only a part of the plate boundary at any one time, but when it does occur, it fills in the opening gap as the two opposing plates move away from each other.

Over millions of years, tectonic plates may move many hundreds of kilometers away from both sides of a divergent plate boundary. Because of this, rocks closest to a boundary are younger than rocks further away on the same plate.

Extensional tectonics

Extensional tectonics is concerned with the structures formed by, and the tectonic processes associated with, the stretching of a planetary body's crust or lithosphere.

Guyot

In marine geology, a guyot (pronounced ), also known as a tablemount, is an isolated underwater volcanic mountain (seamount) with a flat top more than 200 m (660 ft) below the surface of the sea. The diameters of these flat summits can exceed 10 km (6.2 mi). Guyots are most commonly found in the Pacific Ocean, but they have been identified in all the oceans except the Arctic Ocean.

Lithosphere

A lithosphere (Ancient Greek: λίθος [lithos] for "rocky", and σφαίρα [sphaira] for "sphere") is the rigid, outermost shell of a terrestrial-type planet, or natural satellite, that is defined by its rigid mechanical properties. On Earth, it is composed of the crust and the portion of the upper mantle that behaves elastically on time scales of thousands of years or greater. The outermost shell of a rocky planet, the crust, is defined on the basis of its chemistry and mineralogy.

The layer under the lithosphere is known as the asthenosphere.

Mid-ocean ridge

A mid-ocean ridge (MOR) is a seafloor mountain system formed by plate tectonics. It typically has a depth of ~ 2,600 meters (8,500 ft) and rises about two kilometers above the deepest portion of an ocean basin. This feature is where seafloor spreading takes place along a divergent plate boundary. The rate of seafloor spreading determines the morphology of the crest of the mid-ocean ridge and its width in an ocean basin. The production of new seafloor and oceanic lithosphere results from mantle upwelling in response to plate separation. The melt rises as magma at the linear weakness in the oceanic crust, and emerges as lava, creating new crust and lithosphere upon cooling. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a spreading center that bisects the North and South Atlantic basins; hence the origin of the name 'mid-ocean ridge'. Most oceanic spreading centers are not in the middle of their hosting ocean basis but regardless, are called mid-ocean ridges. Mid-ocean ridges around the globe are linked by plate tectonic boundaries and the outline of the ridges across the ocean floor appears similar to the seam of a baseball. The mid-ocean ridge system thus is the longest mountain range on Earth, reaching about 65,000 km (40,000 mi).

Pangaea

Pangaea or Pangea ( ) was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. It assembled from earlier continental units approximately 335 million years ago, and it began to break apart about 175 million years ago. In contrast to the present Earth and its distribution of continental mass, much of Pangaea was in the Southern Hemisphere and surrounded by a superocean, Panthalassa. Pangaea was the most recent supercontinent to have existed and the first to be reconstructed by geologists.

Plate tectonics

Plate tectonics (from the Late Latin tectonicus, from the Greek: τεκτονικός "pertaining to building") is a scientific theory describing the large-scale motion of seven large plates and the movements of a larger number of smaller plates of the Earth's lithosphere, since tectonic processes began on Earth between 3.3 and 3.5 billion years ago. The model builds on the concept of continental drift, an idea developed during the first decades of the 20th century. The geoscientific community accepted plate-tectonic theory after seafloor spreading was validated in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The lithosphere, which is the rigid outermost shell of a planet (the crust and upper mantle), is broken into tectonic plates. The Earth's lithosphere is composed of seven or eight major plates (depending on how they are defined) and many minor plates. Where the plates meet, their relative motion determines the type of boundary: convergent, divergent, or transform. Earthquakes, volcanic activity, mountain-building, and oceanic trench formation occur along these plate boundaries (or faults). The relative movement of the plates typically ranges from zero to 100 mm annually.Tectonic plates are composed of oceanic lithosphere and thicker continental lithosphere, each topped by its own kind of crust. Along convergent boundaries, subduction, or one plate moving under another, carries the lower one down into the mantle; the material lost is roughly balanced by the formation of new (oceanic) crust along divergent margins by seafloor spreading. In this way, the total surface of the lithosphere remains the same. This prediction of plate tectonics is also referred to as the conveyor belt principle. Earlier theories, since disproven, proposed gradual shrinking (contraction) or gradual expansion of the globe.Tectonic plates are able to move because the Earth's lithosphere has greater mechanical strength than the underlying asthenosphere. Lateral density variations in the mantle result in convection; that is, the slow creeping motion of Earth's solid mantle. Plate movement is thought to be driven by a combination of the motion of the seafloor away from spreading ridges due to variations in topography (the ridge is a topographic high) and density changes in the crust (density increases as newly formed crust cools and moves away from the ridge). At subduction zones the relatively cold, dense crust is "pulled" or sinks down into the mantle over the downward convecting limb of a mantle cell. Another explanation lies in the different forces generated by tidal forces of the Sun and Moon. The relative importance of each of these factors and their relationship to each other is unclear, and still the subject of much debate.

Ridge push

Ridge push (also known as gravitational sliding) or sliding plate force is a proposed driving force for plate motion in plate tectonics that occurs at mid-ocean ridges as the result of the rigid lithosphere sliding down the hot, raised asthenosphere below mid-ocean ridges. Although it is called ridge push, the term is somewhat misleading; it is actually a body force that acts throughout an ocean plate, not just at the ridge, as a result of gravitational pull. The name comes from earlier models of plate tectonics in which ridge push was primarily ascribed to upwelling magma at mid-ocean ridges pushing or wedging the plates apart.

Salt tectonics

Salt tectonics, or halokinesis, or halotectonics, is concerned with the geometries and processes associated with the presence of significant thicknesses of evaporites containing rock salt within a stratigraphic sequence of rocks. This is due both to the low density of salt, which does not increase with burial, and its low strength.

Salt structures (excluding undeformed layers of salt) have been found in more than 120 sedimentary basins across the world.

Slab pull

Slab pull is that part of the motion of a tectonic plate caused by its subduction. In 1975 Forsyth and Uyeda showed using inverse theory methods that of the many likely driving forces of plates slab pull was the strongest. Plate motion is partly driven by the weight of cold, dense plates sinking into the mantle at oceanic trenches. This force and slab suction account for almost all of the force driving plate tectonics. The ridge push at rifts contributes only 5 to 10%.

Carlson et al. (1983) in Lallemandet al. (2005) defined the slab pull force as:

Where:

K is 4.2g (gravitational acceleration = 9.81 m/s2) according to McNutt (1984);
Δρ = 80 kg/m3 is the mean density difference between the slab and the surrounding asthenosphere;
L is the slab length calculated only for the part above 670 km (the upper/lower mantle boundary);
A is the slab age in Ma at the trench.

The slab pull force manifests itself between two extreme forms:

Between these two examples there is the evolution of the Farallon Plate: from the huge slab width with the Nevada, the Sevier and Laramide orogenies; the Mid-Tertiary ignimbrite flare-up and later left as Juan de Fuca and Cocos plates, the Basin and Range Province under extension, with slab break off, smaller slab width, more edges and mantle return flow.

Some early models of plate tectonics envisioned the plates riding on top of convection cells like conveyor belts. However, most scientists working today believe that the asthenosphere does not directly cause motion by the friction of such basal forces. The North American Plate is nowhere being subducted, yet it is in motion. Likewise the African, Eurasian and Antarctic Plates. Ridge push is thought responsible for the motion of these plates.

The subducting slabs around the Pacific Ring of Fire cool down the Earth and its Core-mantle boundary. Around the African Plate upwelling mantle plumes from the Core-mantle boundary produce rifting including the African and Ethiopian rift valleys.

Slab suction

Slab suction forces are one of the major plate tectonic driving forces. Slab suction occurs when a subducting slab drives flow in the nearby mantle. This flow then exerts shear tractions on nearby plates. This driving force is important when the slabs (or portions thereof) are not strongly attached to the rest of their respective tectonic plate. They cause both the subducting and overriding plate to move in the direction of the subduction zone. Slab suction is the weakest of the three major forces involved in plate motion, the others being slab pull, the strongest, and ridge push.

Transform fault

A transform fault or transform boundary is a plate boundary where the motion is predominantly horizontal. It ends abruptly and is connected to another transform, a spreading ridge, or a subduction zone.Most of these faults are hidden in the deep ocean, where they offset divergent boundaries in short zigzags resulting from seafloor spreading, the best-known (and most destructive) being those on land at the margins of continental tectonic plates. A transform fault is the only type of strike-slip fault that is classified as a plate boundary.

Vine–Matthews–Morley hypothesis

The Vine–Matthews–Morley hypothesis, also known as the Morley–Vine–Matthews hypothesis, was the first key scientific test of the seafloor spreading theory of continental drift and plate tectonics.

Underlying theory
Measurement conventions
Large-Scale Tectonics
Fracturing
Faulting
Foliation and Lineation
Folding
Boudinage
Kinematic Analysis
Shear zone

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