UNM Researcher Receives NSF Grants to Study Effects of Magma on Continental Plates: UNM Newsroom


Mousumi Roy, Lecturer of the Regents and Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of New Mexico, recently received two National Science Foundation Fellowships, including a Mid-Career Advancement Fellowship for her work. on the impact of the movement of magma on the continental plates.

Mousumi Roy

“I apply physics and mathematics to earth science problems to understand how the continental plates move, warp and change over time. Interestingly, these two proposals focus on how the continental plates change as magma moves through the plate, ”she said.

One of those grants is a collaborative project Roy is leading with scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder, with a focus on the lithosphere, an area that includes the earth’s crust and the upper mantle. Roy said this is where most of the “actions” such as earthquakes and volcanoes involving plate tectonics take place.

“We are looking at rocks in the lower part of the lithosphere that are modified when magma, which floats, seeps or pushes through the channels of the lithosphere. When you have volcanoes erupting on the surface, that magma that has entered the crust is made up of molten material from the crust and material from below the crust in the lithosphere, ”she said. “We are trying to understand how the magma crosses the whole tectonic plate and what are the changes that take place within the tectonic plate when the magma passes through it. For example, does the plate change its chemistry? Or get hotter and weaker? “

Starting to answer some of these questions, Roy said his role in both proposals would be to analyze the chemistry of volcanic rocks and look for patterns in how magma interacted with the rock it passed through.

“Very small cryptic patterns are part of the history of volcanic rocks. My role will be to examine the chemical data and run numerical models using physics and mathematics to study how magma would move in the lithosphere, ”she said. “My role is to make an analogue of the system in the computer, using calculations of the rate and distribution of the most likely chemical reactions to determine the physical and chemical changes in the surrounding rock as the magma moves.”

The second grant is for a project of which she is the only principal investigator on: Destroy continental plates – unravel the role of magmatism. This project was developed with seed funding from a Women in STEM 2020 Award from Advance at UNM and involves examining the interior of tectonic plates, which typically have less tectonic activity. She said she is focusing on these areas as it will help better isolate the processes she wants to study.

“At the edges of the plates, there is a lot of movement and compression of the plates, and the rocks deform. A lot is going on there, so the reason we’re focusing on the interiors is because there is moderate rock deformation, so all of the chemistry patterns you see in the volcanic data are more directly related. during transport through the plate.

Roy said she would work with pre-existing data from the western United States and the Tibetan Plateau, another interior area of ​​the plate that has a lot of magmatic activity. In addition, she will apply machine learning in this project, which she says has never been used before in this area of ​​research.

“What’s very exciting is that we’re actually going to use machine learning to look at geochemical data, a new approach that has never been applied on a continental scale before. We have a huge dataset, so it will help us to understand which models can be inferred in a robust way from chemical data and to be able to multidimensionally search to group rocks by chemical characteristics without including preconceived notions ”, a- she declared. “At the end of the day, we want to try to understand if the processes that we are learning here in the western United States are happening there. [Tibetan Plateau] also.”

Roy said the work they are doing is very important in trying to understand the start of the breakup of the continents.

“When the Pangea broke apart, it is likely that the magma played a very important role in the dislocation, so it is important to understand the transport of the magma within the plates to understand how the continents separate.”

“Sometimes we have big earthquakes inside the plates. These aren’t completely quiet places and we know that because in New Mexico we have the Rio Grande fault, earthquakes in the Socorro Magma Body, and volcanoes. The level of danger and movement is not as fast as at the plate boundaries, but it is an important place to try to understand how the magma moves through the plates without the influence of the plate boundaries ”, she declared. “At the end of the day, the big thing we know happens is when you have a supercontinent, it’s a huge landmass and when it starts to shatter it sometimes shatters magma seeping into it. middle, which can weaken a huge landmass and form a plate boundary.

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