Fault Boundary Transformations Help (page 3)
Transform Fault Boundaries
A fault is simply an opening between two plates caused by plate pressure that builds up until the surrounding rock can’t take it anymore and splits.
A fault is a fracture or zone of fracture in the crust, where some type of movement happens.
Some plates don’t clash head to head, but instead slide past each other horizontally in what is known as a transform fault . The rock on either side is moved in opposite directions as the buildup of pressure between the plates provides the energy for movement. Figure 4-7 shows the displacement of the boundary line in a transform fault.
Fig. 4-7. Transform fault displacement along two plates.
Fault blocks or sections of rock on either side of the fault can be lifted up on one side or both. They can have faults on one or more sides and can be lifted up on one side and dug in on the other depending on the surrounding rock type.
The well-known San Andreas Fault in California where the North American and Pacific plates meet is a transform fault boundary . Along this fault, the Pacific Ocean plate is sliding north while the continental plate is moving southward. Since these two plates have been at it for millions of years, the rocks facing each other on either side of the fault are of different types and ages. From the air, sharp differences in color and texture are obvious.
The “Big Bend” area of the San Andreas fault is responsible for a lot of the intricate faulting in southern California. A fault bend is often found in a confined area of plate collision. A tremendous amount of compressional pressure is created. To release this stress a bit, additional faults form over time. Commonly, crustal shortening happens as a response to intense compression. Crustal shortening allows compression to continue by packing rocks tighter in a compressional zone. When this occurs, shorter thrust faults are created.
Thrust faults are the low-angle reverse faults that pack crust sections over one another to create a thicker mound of crust with a shorter (horizontal) length.
Not all the pressure generated by the bend of the San Andreas fault goes into thrust faults. The collision margin is at an angle, so that some of the in-between rock is able to move sideways out of the way. Large regions of sideways faulting have formed in order to relieve some of the stress created by the fault bend. Figure 4-8 shows how these horizontally formed faults are compressed around the area of the fault.
Fig. 4-8. Compression adds to the creation of short horizontal faults.
As with most plate collisions, transform faults do not slide along smoothly at a constant rate, but in fits and starts. Extreme grinding friction is caused by the buildup of pressure between the two clashing plates. This pressure is usually released by earthquakes and a sideways slip between the transform fault fractures. The 1906 and 1989 earthquakes near San Francisco were caused by side-slip transform fault movement.
Following a slip, pressure builds up for many years until it again reaches a critical pressure point, like the straw that broke the camel’s back. One day, when the “last straw” is added by pressure buildup from the mantle, everything shifts violently again. This sudden movement causes millions of dollars in damages to populated areas: breaking roads, building foundations, bridges, and gas lines. Fires are also common following earthquakes when gas, freed from lines broken during the side-slipping of two grinding plates, ignites.
For millions of years, interior magma has bubbled up from the Earth’s mantle only to cool, turn solid, and add to the depth of the crust. When held back for any length of time, the pressure increases to an extreme point until it blasts violently through volcanoes to form new rock along their sides. The comings and goings of magma is called igneous activity , from the Latin word, ignis or fire. Magma that erupts from a volcano is called lava , which when cool turns into volcanic rock . This rock name comes from the Roman God of fire, Vulcan. The study of volcanoes is sometimes called vulcanism .
Rock from magma that bubbles up more slowly and never reaches the surface is called plutonic rock . It was named after the Greek God of the underworld, Pluto. Plutonic rock spends most, if not all, of its lifetime deep within the Earth.
All continents are made of new and old rock. When Pangea fractured into several chunks and began drifting around the face of the globe, land originally side by side drifted hundreds and thousands of miles apart. It was this “sameness” of rock types, in far flung areas of the world, that got geologists thinking that all land must have been together in one piece originally.
Further study of these ancient areas showed that the lowest level of crustal rocks, known as granulites , formed a kernel around which the continents developed. These dome-shaped structures or shields have very little sedimentary deposits and only thin soils.
Ten to twelve continental shields have been discovered containing ancient rocks. The largest of these are the Canadian Shield in North America and the Fennoscandian Shield in northern Europe. The western one-third of Australia has been found to be part of an ancient shield.
Every continent has an area of ancient unchanged rock known as a continental shield . These stable, shield areas have experienced very little change. Since the original Precambrian eon formed continents millions of years ago, continental shields have only felt minor bending and gentle erosion compared to highly stressed plate margins. Surrounding the continental shields are flat, sediment containing continental platforms .
In addition to the continental shields, geologists find areas of rock that form an edge or frame along the rim of the shields. These edge areas are called platforms . When shields are framed by a platform area, it is known as a craton .
Cratons are made up of pieces of continents that have not been affected by major changes since Precambrian times.
The four billion-year-old metamorphosed granite, known as the Acasta Gneiss found in the Northwest Territories of Canada, shows that the first kernels of continental crust were around even during the earliest formation of the Earth.
When chunks of granitic crust combined into stable, solid kernels drifting about on the malleable mantle, they provided a place for cooled bits of rock to buildup. The first cratons formed about 1.5 billion years ago, with larger pieces the size of Australia and India and smaller bits the size of Madagascar. These early cratons drifted about on the upper mantle until they cooled and slowed down long enough to stick together in larger and larger masses. Eventually, they grew to become continental landmasses with pushed up mountain peaks and ranges.
The North American continent is made up of seven cratons that fused together millions of years ago. These combined craton landmasses account for about 80% of today’s continental landmass with the ancient rock masses making up only a tiny part of the total landmass.
The Earth’s constant magma recycling melted most of the first rock-forming kernels since their formation millions of years ago and transformed them into new rock over much of the planet’s solid surface. Canada, Africa, and Australia are the only known places that still have rocks unchanged throughout geologic time. In the United States, the oldest Precambrian rock is found in the nearly two billion-year-old Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Metamorphosed lava and sediments from volcanic eruptions in the Precambrian period were formed early on when the Earth’s crust was warmer and more malleable. The large crustal plates still floated freely, and were added to by huge, violent explosions of lava that blew through cracks and holes in the new crust.
Rock formed in this way is known as greenstone . After ash and lavas bubble through seawater and groundwater of temperatures between 150 and 300°C, greenstone is formed. The typical green color comes from high amounts of chlorite. Greenstone rock contains most of the world’s gold. Most gold mines around the world are ancient playgrounds of volcanic activity. Greenstone belts in southeast Africa are about 19 km thick and roughly three billion years old.
Ancient ocean floor sediments that have turned to rock and pushed up through cracks in the continents are known as ophiolites . However, before plate tectonics was explained, geologists couldn’t figure out how these rocks, usually found on the seafloor, came to be located on land.
It was not until samples gathered by submarines and deep-sea drilling were studied more closely that scientists figured out this mystery. They found that ophiolites are formed when the oceanic crust that has been smoothed and smashed against the continents is carried along with seafloor spreading and then shoved up onto the land. This process has been going on for a long time. Some of the ophiolites samples studied are thought to be around 3.6 billion years old.
Ophiolites, with veins of rich ores and mineral deposits, are found in many of the mountain ranges of the continents.
Blue schists are metamorphosed rock of subducted oceanic crust forced back into the mantle at subduction areas of the ocean floor or forced up onto the continents. There are also green schists that contain larger amounts of chlorite and epidote and are formed by low-temperature, low-pressure metamorphosed volcanic rock.
With the development of sonar and highly sensitive imaging instruments during World Wars I and II, the timing of plate tectonics was right. The world’s ocean depths were determined and ridges and trenches discovered. Plate motions could be drawn accurately with much less guesswork.
The use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) (the same system that allows some automobiles to know exactly where they are on a road trip) uses the radio signals of an encircling network of 27 GPS satellites, each with a highly precise atomic clock on board. A ground-based radio receiver gathers the signals from 4 to 7 satellites at the same time and identifies the differences in the movement time from each satellite. A component of the receiver uses the time differences to locate the receiver to within 1 cm. Along the San Andreas fault in southern California, there are nearly 300 GPS monitoring stations constantly checking satellite signals for small displacements in local landforms.
NASA’s Space Shuttle and the International Space Station also provide valuable, real-time imaging. Through precise measurements, geologists have been able to accurately calculate the spreading of the Mid-Atlantic ridge to within a centimeter and the slow closing of the Pacific Ocean through subduction.
Plate movements are used by geologists to help to predict possible earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This “early warning system” gives scientists around the world, one more way to protect entire populations from Mother Nature’s occasional temper tantrums.
Practice problems of this concept can be found at: Plate Tectonics Practice Test
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