Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Modeling Ocean Floor Spreading In A Tub Of Wax, Cornell Researcher Sees Eons Pass In Minutes

Date:
March 25, 1999
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
Eberhard Bodenschatz watches 100 million years of geological time pass in an hour. He sees transform faults being created, rift valleys opening and spiral structures called microplates forming. But the Cornell University physicist does not have an omnipotent view of the planet's ocean floor. Instead he is watching a model of tectonic evolution in a tub of molten wax.

ATLANTA -- Eberhard Bodenschatz watches 100 million years of geological time pass in an hour. He sees transform faults being created, rift valleys opening and spiral structures called microplates forming.

But the Cornell University physicist does not have an omnipotent view of the planet's ocean floor. Instead he is watching a model of tectonic evolution in a tub of molten wax. "These wax experiments," said Bodenschatz, "allow us to study millions of years of tectonic spreading in the laboratory. Remarkably, these phenomena appear to be similar to the Earth."

Bodenschatz, an associate professor of physics, presented the latest results from his wax modeling at the centennial meeting of the American Physical Society at the Georgia World Congress Center today (March 24).

His experiments, which build on research going back to the 1970s, examine phenomena similar to ocean floor spreading. His experimental apparatus, 3 feet long, 1 foot wide and 4 inches deep, is filled with molten wax. Cold air is blown over the wax surface so that a solid layer is formed.

The solid wax layer represents the Earth's cold and hard lithosphere, and the molten wax below, the Earth's plastic upper mantle. The solid layer of wax is divided, and the two halves are pulled apart with constant velocity. "This enables us to study the dynamical structure of the rift while wax constantly solidifies at the plate margins," Bodenschatz said.

For example, at very slow spreading rates, the rift remains straight with a deep valley, its lowest point at the rift axis. At medium rates the large-scale structure of the rift remains flat, interrupted by transform faults and curious structures called microplates. At fast rates the pattern is dominated by transform faults and fracture zones.

The microplates, formed at the intermediate rates, are of particular interest. They are tiny chunks of solid wax that appear at the rift and begin rolling up, something like a rolling snowball gathering snow. Each chunk of wax grows with constant velocity in the direction of the rift, slowing down the rotation rate and resulting in a spiral shape.

Microplates might be created in a similar fashion in the ocean floor. They are structures 100 to 200 kilometers across, the result of a chunk of the lithosphere being caught between two moving, overlapping plates. These ocean-floor microplates rotate by 18 degrees in about one million years, corresponding to just a minute in the wax tub. The best-known microplate is the Easter plate in the mid-Pacific.

How is the wax able to reproduce this ocean-floor phenomenon? "Well, nature does it," said Bodenschatz. "We are trying to find out why. The wax allows us easily to vary parameters and to study in detail the dynamics of rift formation."

Bodenschatz made it clear that his experiments are only a model for ocean-floor spreading and are not an exact replica. "The wax gives me a reasonable approach to model such processes in the Earth," he said. "I don't want to say I do the Earth. I do wax."

Contributing to the research were Cornell graduate student Rolf Ragnarsson and undergraduates William Bertsche, Richard Katz, Nate Gemelke and Jeron Carr. Bodenschatz is collaborating with Sarah Tebbens of the University of South Florida. The research is supported by the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research and the Cornell Center for Materials Research.

Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability.

-- Cornell Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics: http://milou.msc.cornell.edu/waxtectonics.html

-- APS 1999 Centennial meeting, Atlanta, meeting program index: http://www.aps.org/meet/CENT99/BAPS/index.html


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Modeling Ocean Floor Spreading In A Tub Of Wax, Cornell Researcher Sees Eons Pass In Minutes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 March 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990325054000.htm>.
Cornell University. (1999, March 25). Modeling Ocean Floor Spreading In A Tub Of Wax, Cornell Researcher Sees Eons Pass In Minutes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990325054000.htm
Cornell University. "Modeling Ocean Floor Spreading In A Tub Of Wax, Cornell Researcher Sees Eons Pass In Minutes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990325054000.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath

Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath

AP (July 25, 2014) Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe toured the Cherrystone Family Camping and RV Resort on the Chesapeake Bay today, a day after it was hit by a tornado. The storm claimed two lives and injured dozens of others. (July 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

AFP (July 25, 2014) Europe's highest train, the little train of Artouste in the French Pyrenees, celebrates its 80th birthday. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

AFP (July 24, 2014) Health and agriculture development are key if African countries are to overcome poverty and grow, US software billionaire Bill Gates said Thursday, as he received an honourary degree in Ethiopia. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins