As Earth’s tectonic plates dive beneath one another, they drag three times as much water into the planet’s interior as previously thought.
Those are the results of a new paper published today (Nov. 14) in the journal Nature. Using the natural seismic rumblings of the earthquake-prone subduction zone at the Marianas trench, where the Pacific plate is sliding beneath the Philippine plate, researchers were able to estimate how much water gets incorporated into the rocks that dive deep below the surface. [In Photos: Ocean Hidden Beneath Earth’s Surface]
The find has major ramifications for understanding Earth’s deep water cycle, wrote marine geology and geophysics researcher Donna Shillington of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in an op-ed accompanying the new paper. Water beneath the surface of the Earth can contribute to the development of magma and can lubricate faults, making earthquakes more likely, wrote Shillington, who was not involved in the new research.