Monsoons spinning the Earth's plates: study

Apr 13, 2011
Scientists have for the first time shown a link between intensifying climate events and tectonic plate movement in findings that could provide a valuable insight into why huge tremors occur.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists have for the first time shown a link between intensifying climate events and tectonic plate movement in findings that could provide a valuable insight into why huge tremors occur.

A new study from The Australian National University has for the first time confirmed that long-term climate change has the potential to spin the Earth’s tectonic plates.

Dr Giampiero Iaffaldano from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences and colleagues in France and Germany have established a link between the motion of the Indian plate over the past 10 million years and a specific climate change event over the same period: the intensification of the Indian monsoon.

Dr Iaffaldano said that the monsoon, which increased rainfall in northeast Indian by four metres annually, sped up motion in the Indian plate by almost one centimetre per year.

“The 100km-thick outer shell of Earth, the lithosphere, is divided into pieces called tectonic plates. Plates move in different directions at speeds in the order of centimetres per year, comparable to the speed of fingernail growth in humans.

“The significance of this finding lies in recognising for the first time that long-term climate changes have the potential to act as a force and influence the motion of tectonic plates. It is known that certain geologic events caused by plate motions – for example the drift of continents, the closure of ocean basins and the building of large mountain belts – have the ability to influence climate patterns over a period of a million years.

“Now we know that the opposite holds as well: long-term climate change, or the natural changes in climate patterns over millions of years, can modify the motion of plates in a feedback mechanism.”

Dr Iaffaldano added that the finding could help unlock the causes of plate-motion events like large-scale earthquakes.

“When forces moving plates along their boundaries reach certain thresholds, earthquakes occur and energy is released. This happens cyclically, typically every several hundred years in the case of large earthquakes. However it appears that the seismic potential of plate boundaries, which is an indication of how prone these are to large earthquakes, depends, among other factors, also on how strong or weak these forces have been in the past. In other words, it depends also on the history of plates over millions of years.

“In order to understand the seismic potential of plate boundaries it is important to identify all the possible factors that caused plate motion to change in the past. In that respect we have discovered that climate change could in fact be one possible candidate, something we did not consider until now.

“This new knowledge shall be used to analyse the past behaviour of plates in the Earth’s crust. Ultimately we aim at understanding what caused plate motions to change and which regions are currently more prone to large earthquakes. To that end, we may also have to consider the history of climate over the past million years.”

Explore further: NASA balloons begin flying in Antarctica for 2014 campaign

More information: Monsoon speeds up Indian plate motion, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 304, Issues 3-4, 15 April 2011, Pages 503-510. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2011.02.026 dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2011.02.026

Provided by Australian National University

3.2 /5 (13 votes)

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User comments : 9

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Nik_2213
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2011
Uh, could this be the other way around ? When the Himalayas reached sufficient height to intercept the monsoon, rapid erosion began to strip the mountains causing isostatic rebound of the convergent plate boundaries and changing the internal dynamics...
lengould100
3 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2011
So it looks like atmospheric influences can (perhaps) have about a 10% effect on plate movement. How can the effects of changes in this influence be predicted without knowing the effects of the other 90%, eg. circulation of the mantle below the lithosphere? Has that been measured?
NameIsNotNick
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2011
"discovered that climate change could in fact be one possible candidate". This is a pretty weak statement that does not justify the title or the photo caption: "Scientists have...shown a link".
gwrede
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2011
The article contained no specifics. So from now on, we're supposed to BELIEVE that heavy rain affects plate movements. Wasn't this a website for precisely those who want to KNOW or UNDERSTAND?
GSwift7
2 / 5 (4) Apr 13, 2011
Even the most ardent AGW supporter must surely question the logic here.

The patterns of the atmosphere and oceans are driven by the motion of the earth, or the coriolis effect. The impact of the air compared to the impact of the oceans should be almost undetectable. The impact of the oceans should be similarly undetectable compared to the effects of magma circulation under the crust and the coriolis effect of Earth's rotation.

I think they clearly are saying that your flea has a dog infestation. You better get the flea sprayed with dog repellant immediately.

To say that they found a statistical relationship isn't surprising. Atmospheric and plate movement are both driven by the same forces driven by the motions of the earth moon and sun.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2011
Even the most ardent AGW supporter must surely question the logic here.
What the hell do you think any of this has to do with AGW?
I think they clearly are saying that your flea has a dog infestation.
Or you're peering down your own rectum, again. From the abstract (linked in the article):

"we show quantitatively that climate changes may impact the short-term evolution of plate motion by linking explicitly the observed counter-clockwise rotation of the Indian plate since ~ 10 Ma to increased erosion and reduced elevation along the eastern Himalayas, due to temporal variations in monsoon intensity. ... Furthermore, we show with global geodynamic models of the coupled mantle/lithosphere system that the inferred reduction in elevation is consistent with the Indian plate motion record over the same period of time, and that lowered gravitational potential nergy in the eastern Himalayas following stronger erosion is a key factor to foster plate convergence in this region."
GSwift7
1 / 5 (3) Apr 14, 2011
Even the most ardent AGW supporter must surely question the logic here.
What the hell do you think any of this has to do with AGW?


It doesn't. I was just pointing out that even the most dense moron should understand that these people have it backwards. I guess I underestimated the potential for stupidity.

You know, there are a lot of hair-brained studies out there. This is one of them.

Of course global climate affects plate tectonics, but the opposite is more true, by nearly infinite orders of magnitude. Climate is changed by the shape of the surface far more than the other way around. Hmmm, lets see. Counter-clockwise motion of a plate in the Northern Hemisphere? Coriolis effect? Naaahhhh, it's erosion. Utterly stupid.

Oh, and the notion that climate changes haven't been looked at in relation to crust movement? That's absurd too. Ice mass and water mass have long been known to effect crust movement. Where have these people been?
PinkElephant
3 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2011
Counter-clockwise motion of a plate in the Northern Hemisphere? Coriolis effect? Naaahhhh, it's erosion. Utterly stupid.
You're right: utterly stupid. Because in the Northern Hemisphere, the Coriolis effect drives CLOCKWISE motion -- unless you're talking about air flow induced by pressure differences, which rotates in the opposite direction. AFAIK, there's no direct crustal equivalent to an atmospheric pressure gradient force: there are no "winds" in the crust.
Ice mass and water mass have long been known to effect crust movement. Where have these people been?
They're talking about gravitational/landmass gradients due to changing erosion rates, not ice or water mass. This is quite different from Europe or North America, considering its the TROPICS.
You know, there are a lot of hair-brained studies out there. This is one of them.
And you post a lot of hair-brained comments out here. These are but a small sample.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2011
Okay, I confused myself. I was thinking about fluids draining (which go counter clockwise). I withdraw my rant.

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