UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
Home
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Webcasts
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
In class we learned that the density of tectonic plates determines which converging plate will subduct. What would happen in the case of two oceanic plates that have equal density? Would the both try and subduct, resulting in a big v- formation / trench thing? Are there any locations on earth where two identically-dense oceanic plates meet? Thanks.
Answer 1:

Well thats a good question. In general, the condition that the plates have exactly the same density structure or mean density is intrinsically very very rare. Consider that we refer to the mean density of the plate...that means the average density from the surface down to about 70-100 km...So given all the irregularities (the earth is heterogeneous at small scale) that exist it will be EXTREMELY rare that two plate will have the same density. I cannot think of a case where this has happened.

Basically the age of the two plates that form a boundary will differ and density correlates roughly with age... so as long as the ages are different so will the densities.


Answer 2:

If they have equal density, good question - it probably depends on the geometry of the collision.

However, it really depends upon the density of the plate relative to the density of the mantle underneath. Continental plates are less dense, because they're lighter material, and when they collide, they bunch up and form mountains (e.g. the Himalaya). When ocean plates collide, ONE of them WILL go down, and you get island arcs. There are a number of these in the Pacific: Melanesia, the Marianas, Phillipenes, Japan, the Aleutians - all of these are created by one oceanic plate being subducting underneath another and plunging down into the mantle. There is one in the Carribean as well - this is what caused the recent earthquake in Haiti. Ocean crust is denser than the mantle because it's made of the same stuff but is colder.


Answer 3:

When two plates (either oceanic or terrestrial) converge and they are of similar density then they will crash into each other and form mountains. A great example of this is when India crashed into the Asian continent and the Himalayas were formed. Cant think of an oceanic example, but I am sure that there are underwater mountain ranges formed in the same manner.



Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use