In DepthGeophysics

Expedition probes ocean trench's deepest secrets

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Science  13 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6321, pp. 115
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6321.115

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The Mariana Trench, a scythe-shaped cleft in the western Pacific sea floor, plunges nearly 11 kilometers—deeper than any other place in the oceans. The trench marks a subduction zone, where one slab of crust slides beneath another. But whereas many other subducting plates slope gradually downward, in the Mariana the Pacific Plate dives nearly vertically. Scientists have long wondered what accounts for that precipitous dive, and why massive earthquakes that generate long-ranging tsunamis at other subduction zones have not been recorded in the trench. Now, a Chinese-U.S. team has planted an array of seismometers on the Mariana's slopes. By listening for seismic waves, the 5-year, $12 million Mariana Trench initiative aims to image in fine detail the warped rock layers in and around the trench, looking for clues as to what shapes them.

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