Scripps Institution project reveals data about Andes formation


City News Service

A new computer model developed in part by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are giving researchers better insight into the formation of the Andes Mountains in South America, Scripps announced Friday.

Previous theories of plate tectonics left unanswered a number of questions about the the world’s longest mountain range, according to an article that appears in the Dec. 1 edition of Nature.

“The formation of the Andes has been a long-standing question, but almost all of the previous explanations have major flaws,” said Dave Stegman, a Scripps geophysicist. “This new model is much more viable, but needs further testing.”

Among the questions was why the mountains only began to form 45 million years ago, when the subduction of one plate under another began 125 million years ago.

In subduction, two tectonic plates move toward each other, and one goes under and presses into the earth’s mantle.

“The model we developed explains the timing of the Andes formation and unique features such as the curvature of the mountain chain,” said Fabio Capitanio of Monash University’s School of Geosciences in Australia.

The new theory has only been applied to one subduction zone so far, but could be useful for others.

The scientists said that understanding forces driving tectonic plates will ultimately allow researchers to predict shifts and their consequences, including the formation of mountain ranges, opening and closing of oceans, and earthquakes.