Tectonic plates are massive, and it’s hard to imagine one being lost for 60 million years, but that is the case. Researchers from the University of Houston have discovered a lost tectonic plate that spent 60 million years hidden under the Pacific Ocean. The plate is known as Resurrection and was a controversial topic among geologists because many believed it never existed.
Other geologists believed that it was directly responsible for volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Ring of Fire. Study co-author Jonny Wu said that volcanoes form at plate boundaries, and the more plates you have, the more volcanoes result. Volcanoes can impact climate change, and Wu notes that when trying to model the Earth and understand how the climate has changed over time, knowing how many volcanoes have been on earth is important.
Researchers used a computer model of the Earth’s crust to reconstruct the plates of the early Cenozoic era, which started 66 million years ago. That era was not long before the mass extinction event that killed all of the dinosaurs. There were two tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean during that time, including the Kula and the Farallon. Those plates long ago slid underneath the Earth’s crust.
Some geologists argue that significant amounts of magma in modern Alaska and Washington state are the remnants of a long-lost tectonic plate and the volcanoes near the edge of the plate. Wu says the researchers believe they have direct evidence that the Resurrection plate did exist. The researcher added that he and his team are trying to solve the debate and advocate for which side their data supports.
Interesting things happen with tectonic plates. In 2019 it was reported that one appeared to be peeling apart on the seabed off the coast of Portugal and could one day result in a shrinking of the Atlantic Ocean. A magnitude 8.2 earthquake in southern Mexico in 2017 split the tectonic plate responsible for the quake in half.