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The Andes Mountains are the longest continuous mountain range in the world, stretching about 7,000 kilometers, or 4,300 miles, along the western coast of South America.
The Andean margin, where two tectonic plates meet, has long been considered the textbook example of a steady, continuous subduction event, where one plate slipped under another, eventually forming the mountain range seen today.
Paper - Nature - Geologists - University - Houston
In a paper published in the journal Nature, geologists from the University of Houston demonstrate the reconstruction of the subduction of the Nazca Ocean plate, the remnants of which are currently found down to 1,500 kilometers, or about 900 miles, below the Earth's surface.
Their results show that the formation of the Andean mountain range was more complicated than previous models suggested.
Andes - Mountain - Formation - Paradigm - Plate
"The Andes Mountain formation has long been a paradigm of plate tectonics," said Jonny Wu, assistant professor of geology at UH and a co-author of the paper.
When tectonic plates move under the Earth's crust and enter the mantle, they do not disappear. Rather, they sink toward the core, like leaves sinking to the bottom of a lake. As these plates sink, they retain some of their shape, offering glimpses of what the Earth's surface looked like millions of years ago.
Plate - Remnants - Way - CT - Doctors
These plate remnants can be imaged, similar to the way CT scans allow doctors to see inside of a patient, using data gleaned from earthquake waves.
"We have attempted to go back in time with more accuracy than anyone has ever done before. This has resulted in more detail than previously thought possible," Wu said. "We've managed to go back to the...
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