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Syn Yee Tan

Literature Review 3: Seismology and the New Global Tectonics by
Bryan Isacks, Jack
Oliver and Lynn R. Skyes

In the article Seismology and the New Global Tectonics, Bryan

Isacks, Jack Oliver and Lynn R. Skyes discuss global tectonics using
seismic interpretation. When this article was published, the theory of
plate tectonics has been widely accepted. The three main layers
modelled were the lithosphere, asthenosphere and mesosphere
through the changes in seismic velocities through the Earth. Mantle
convection was restricted to the lithosphere and asthenosphere, where
it is mentioned that the flow of asthenosphere is the compensating
flow in response to the flow of lithosphere. Seismic data also shows
earthquakes source are deep within the earth due to seafloor
spreading, which makes sense because subduction and seafloor
spreading have to occur simultaneously.

Seismology was also used to determine ridges and subduction

zones. This is done by locating the shallow and deep earthquakes and
analysed through focal-mechanisms. There are two types of focal
mechanisms the first type being confined to shallow depths and

indicates the movement between plate, while the second type

indicates stress and deformation within a plate of lithosphere. Deep
earthquakes are often found at island arcs where subduction happens.
Deep earthquake zones may give us the most direct source of
information regarding the movement of material in the asthenosphere
as well as the relative motion of the asthenosphere to the lithosphere.

Using seismology, the authors discovered seismic activity

patterns along active transform faults and seismic anamolous zones
underneath island arcs. Skyes differentiated the transform boundaries
along the rift system from simple offset by the type of slip (right/left
lateral) using seismic data. I think that the discovery of major seismic
activity along the transform fault but not throughout the fracture zones
was very new, and could potentially explain the real motion of plates
and its boundaries. Seismic activity is also concentrated in rather
narrow belts and can be thought as continuous throughout the Earth.
The interaction of a few large plates of lithosphere accounts for most of
the seismic activity that happens at or near the edges of the plates.

This article is an interesting read, and it is interesting to read

about the ideas about global tectonics were put forward after the
acceptance of the plate tectonics theory. I think that given the study of
seismology is such a foreign field at that time, this article is a

breakthrough in some ways (though parts of the article were proven to

be wrong later on).