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Press Release 11-053

Viscous Cycle: Quartz is Key to Plate Tectonics

Findings offer new approach to understanding movements of continents

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Photo of quartz crystals.

Quartz may play a major role in the movements of continents, known as plate tectonics.

Credit: USGS


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Map of the earth's surface showing plates and earthquake distributions in red.

Plate tectonics revolutionized understanding of earthquake distributions (in red).

Credit: Tony Lowry, Utah State University


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Map showing the distribution of EarthScope's seismic, GPS and other instruments in United States.

EarthScope is an NSF project with thousands of seismic, GPS and other instruments.

Credit: Earthscope


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Map showing mountain chains in the Western United States.

Mountain chains in the Western United States cover a broad zone of nearly 2,000 kilometers.

Credit: Tony Lowry, Utah State University


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Map of western United States showing quartz-rich in red-orange and quartz-poor areas in blue-green.

New measurements of quartz abundance from EarthScope data show that mountains are quartz-rich (red-orange colors). The Great Plains, Columbia Basin and Great Valley have little or no quartz (blue-green colors).

Credit: Lowry & Perez-Gussinye


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Chart of depth vs. yield temperature showing that quartz is the weakest mineral.

Rock flow depends on temperature, water and rock type: quartz is the weakest mineral.

Credit: Lowry & Perez-Gussinye


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