BRITAIN and America are growing further apart due to the unusual movement of magma under the Earth's crust, research has found.
Experts from the UK dropped seismometers to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and found deep geological forces previously unknown to science.
They're thought to be partly responsible for the glacial movement of tectonic plates which pulls the Americas apart from Europe and Africa by a few centimetres each year.
According to the research team, the finding sheds light on mysterious processes beneath our planet's crust.
Dr Kate Rychert, an expert at the University of Southampton who worked on the project, said the discovery "has broad implications for our understanding of Earth’s evolution and habitability".
"It also demonstrates how crucial it is to gather new data from the oceans," she added. "There is so much more to explore."
Tectonic plates – the bedrock of continents – form deep beneath the ocean, making it tricky for scientists to study their formation and evolution.
In 2016, researchers travelled to the mid-Atlantic on a mission to learn more about the mysterious formations.
Dropping 39 seismometers to measure activity around the mid-Atlantic ridge, a plate boundary located along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, they didn't expect to find much.
In a study published in Nature on Wednesday, the team outline how their readings may explain what's pushing the continents apart.
According to the research, magma flowing upwards from deep within the Earth's mantle is pushing against the Earth's crust.
The upwelling material generates huge forces that drive upwards and outwards, pushing tectonic plates in opposing directions.
It's thought that the plates that hold the Americas and Europe move apart by roughly four centimetres a year.
Study co-author Professor Mike Kendall, from the University of Oxford, said: "This work is exciting and that it refutes long held assumptions that mid-ocean ridges might play a passive role in plate tectonics.
A timeline of life on Earth
Here’s a brief history of life on our planet
- 4.6billion years ago – the origin of Earth
- 3.8billion years ago – first life appears on Earth
- 2.1billion years ago – lifeforms made up of multiple cells evolve
- 1.5billion years ago – eukaryotes, which are cells that contain a nucleus inside of their membranes, emerge
- 550million years ago – first arthropods evolve
- 530million years ago – first fish appear
- 470million years ago – first land plants appear
- 380million years ago – forests emerge on Earth
- 370million years ago – first amphibians emerge from the water onto land
- 320million years ago – earliest reptiles evolve
- 230million years ago – dinosaurs evolve
- 200million years ago – mammals appear
- 150million years ago – earliest birds evolve
- 130million years ago – first flowering plants
- 100million years ago – earliest bees
- 55million years ago – hares and rabbits appear
- 30million years ago – first cats evolve
- 20million years ago – great apes evolve
- 7million years ago –first human ancestors appear
- 2million years ago – Homo erectus appears
- 300,000 years ago – Homo sapiens evolves
- 50,000 years ago – Eurasia and Oceania colonised
- 40,000 years ago – Neandethal extinction
"It suggests that in places such as the Mid-Atlantic, forces at the ridge play an important role in driving newly-formed plates apart."
There's still plenty of research to do to determine how the seismic forces beneath the Atlantic play a role in its ongoing evolution.
Study co-author Dr Nick Harmon, also from the University of Southampton told Gizmodo that even their best data looks like a “blurry CAT scan.”
In future, the researchers hope to shed further light on the deep-sea dynamics of the ridge.
In other news, a huge iceberg three times the size of London is on a collision course with a remote British territory.
Earth’s magnetic field is WEAKENING – and the puzzling phenomenon could spark satellite malfunctions.
And, a mind-blowing video shows the world's largest dust cloud racing from the Sahara to the Americas.
What do you make of the scientists' finding? Let us know in the comments!
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