Dr. James Knapp, an Oklahoma State University professor and Boone Pickens Distinguished Chair of Geoscience, and a team of researchers from across the country recently had a study published in Nature Communications, a subsidiary of the Nature Journal.
Based out of the United Kingdom, Nature is one of the most prestigious scientific journals, famous around the world.
“They were involved in publishing a lot of the seminal work about Darwin and evolution and a lot of really fundamental science,” Knapp said.
Their article in Nature Communications, titled “Limited and localized magmatism in the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province,” argues for rethinking how the Earth works.
Knapp and the research team focused on how Earth has evolved over time — specifically how continents break apart, called rifting.
“It's a mechanism wherein over geologic time, the large plates that make up the outer portion of the earth, move around and interact with each other and crash together and make big mountain belts and form volcanic chains and all those kinds of things,” he said.
One of the key processes of plate tectonics is this process of continents breaking apart periodically and forming new plates and new ocean basins.
“If you wind the geologic clock backwards 250 million years, all of the continents were assembled in a supercontinent of Pangea, and since that time we had the rifting of the continent to form collection of continents that we have today,” Knapp said. “So, this study was focused on how that process is recorded in the eastern margin of North America."
Continents breaking apart changes a lot of the Earth’s structure, even down into the mantle, Knapp added. This melting of the internal material produces a lot of magma, so rifts have historically been perceived to include a lot of volcanic activity.
Knapp and his team argue that may not be true.
“This paper comes to the conclusion that the size of the magmatic province was very limited and localized within these rift-related structures,” Knapp said. “It appears to be orders of magnitude less than what previous works have proposed for the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province.
These processes take place over millions of years, Knapp said. In the East African Rift, another area Knapp and his team plan to study, the process has taken more than 20 million years.
“[This research] has the potential to rewrite what our understanding is of what the relationship is between breaking of a continent and that whole magmatic province,” he said.
With their research, the team is trying to better understand the fundamentals of how the world works, which will impact how we understand things like climate change and evolution.
“Hopefully [this research] will guide new investigations into what is seemingly a fundamental aspect of how the Earth works,” he said.
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