How tectonic faults form: a new theory of rifting

How tectonic faults: a new theory of rifting

Rifts can form for various reasons/BGS Newsletter

Probably about tectonic faults heard by most people. After a long study, scientists have discovered that some of these faults have formed due to the drift of tectonic plates.

We are talking about the so-called faults – these are extended abysses where the lithospheric plates have separated. For a long time it was believed that they formed as the pressure increased at the junction of the lithospheric plates due to the accumulation of magma. This leads to the fact that the magma literally pushes the plates apart, forming a fault – a fault. Turns out that might not be the only reason.

How tectonic faults form: new theory of rift formation

Diagram illustrating our understanding of fault formation/Photo Wikipedia

Drift of lithospheric plates

Scientists monitored the process of formation of rift faults (rifting) in Iceland. The study lasted many years and allowed to assert that the pressure created by the accumulation of magma under the junction of the lithospheric plates is not the only reason for the formation of rifts on Earth.

Scientists explored the area in Iceland known today as Holuhraun – it’s a lava field that formed where two lithospheric plates meet. In fact, Holuhraun appeared at the site where a rift formed, which allowed magma to erupt to the surface. After careful observation and extensive research, the geologists realized that the pressure of the magma from below could not be the main factor in the formation of the fault.

An international team of scientists has suggested that the main reason is the slow drift of lithospheric plates as they move in opposite directions. The distance between them gradually increases, forming a fault line. Of course, this does not mean that the theory that magma contributes to the formation of faults is not true. A study conducted by scientists shows that there can be several reasons for the formation of faults, and in some cases, the magma causes the separation of the plates, and in others, the own movement of these plates.

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