The Pacific is Breaking Up! Scientists Discover Massive Cracks in Earth's Crust

Gigantic Cracks Are Ripping Apart the Pacific Ocean Floor, Challenging Our Understanding of Plate Tectonics. Pacific Plate Pulled Apart by Internal Faults, Not Just Subduction, Study Finds

For decades, the theory of plate tectonics has painted a picture of rigid plates gliding across the Earth's mantle. But a new study by University of Toronto researchers throws a wrench in that image, revealing a Pacific plate riddled with massive internal faults that are actively pulling it apart.

Cracks in the Ocean Floor

The culprit? Enormous forces within the plate itself, tugging westward and tearing it apart along newly discovered faults, some thousands of meters deep and hundreds of kilometers long. This finding, published in Geophysical Research Letters, challenges the traditional understanding of plate tectonics and could have implications for our understanding of earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Not So Pristine

"We knew that geological deformations like faults happen on continental plates, far from plate boundaries," says Erkan Gün, a postdoctoral fellow at U of Toronto and lead author of the study. "But we didn't know the same thing was happening to ocean plates."


The Pacific Ocean plate

This discovery suggests that the Pacific plate, which covers most of the Pacific Ocean floor, isn't the monolithic entity we once thought it was. "What we're doing is refining plate tectonics - the theory that describes how our planet works - and showing those plates really aren't as pristine as we previously thought," adds Professor Russell Pysklywec, co-author of the study.


For millions of years, the Pacific plate has been on a westward journey, eventually plunging into the Earth's mantle along subduction zones. Imagine a tablecloth being pulled from one end: the western edge gets dragged down, pulling the rest of the plate with it.

The newly discovered faults, however, introduce a wrinkle in this analogy. They act like tears within the fabric of the tablecloth, weakening specific regions and potentially influencing how the plate moves and deforms.

Plateau Weaknesses

The study focused on four massive undersea plateaus in the western Pacific, formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity. Surprisingly, these seemingly robust features turned out to be the most susceptible to damage. "It was thought that because the sub-oceanic plateaus are thicker, they should be stronger," says Gün. "But our models and seismic data show it's actually the opposite: the plateaus are weaker."

This unexpected finding suggests that the plateaus act like weak spots in the fabric of the Pacific plate, more prone to tearing and potential volcanic activity.

Data Depths

Studying these phenomena is no easy feat. The plateaus lie thousands of meters below the ocean surface, making direct observation a challenge. The researchers relied on supercomputer models and existing data, some dating back to the 1970s and 80s.

"There is evidence that volcanism occurred at these sites in the past," says Gün, "but it isn't clear if that's happening now." The team hopes their findings will spark renewed interest in these undersea giants, leading to more data collection and a deeper understanding of their role in plate tectonics.

Evolving Understanding

This discovery adds another layer of complexity to the ever-evolving story of plate tectonics. "The theory's not carved in stone and we're still finding new things," says Pysklywec. "Now we know this fault damage is tearing apart the center of an ocean plate - and this could be linked to seismic activity and volcanism."

This finding, he adds, "overturns what we've understood and taught about the active Earth, showing that there are still radical mysteries about even the grand operation of our evolving planet."

So, the next time you think of the Earth's tectonic plates, remember: they might not be as rigid and predictable as we once thought. The Pacific plate, at least, seems to be waging an internal battle, with hidden faults threatening to tear it apart. And who knows what other secrets our planet's tectonic dance holds?

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