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Cracks in the Earth

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William B Stoecker: The current reigning paradigm in geology and geophysics is plate tectonics, the belief that the Earth’s crust is divided into a number of “plates,” which are in a constant state of (very slow) flux. The line between a large earthquake fault and a true plate boundary is not perfectly clear, so there is some disagreement among geologists about some of the boundaries, some uncertainty. Initially it was supposed that the sole driving force behind the movement of plates was seafloor spreading caused by upwelling of magma from the mantle along the rift zones, but, while there are “hot spots” on the crust where magma plumes arise, there is no mechanism known that would cause magma to rise in long, thin sheets across great arcs of the crust. It now seems more likely that magma plumes play a role (like the plume under Iceland on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge), but vast sections of crust are pulled as much as they are pushed.

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