SYDNEY, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- A team of researchers have identified the first microplate in the Indian Ocean. The microplate reveals the collision between India and Eurasia that spawned the Himalayas, the world's tallest mountain range.
Microplates are smaller fragments of tectonic plates found at the subduction zone of abutting continental and an oceanic plates. Though seven microplates have been discovered in the Pacific, this is the first of its kind to be found in the Indian Ocean.
The microplate was located and mapped by a team of researchers from the United States and Australia. Scientists detailed their efforts in a new paper, published this week in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
A series of hills and grooves accent the microplate, revealing a period of stress caused by the continental collision some 47 million years ago.
"The age of the largest continental collision on Earth has long been controversial, with age-estimates ranging from at least 59 to 34 million years ago," Kara Matthews from the University of Sydney said in a press release. "Knowing this age is particularly important for understanding the link between the growth of mountain belts and major climate change."
Researchers named the feature Mammerickx Microplate, for Jacqueline Mammerickx, a pioneer in seafloor mapping. It charted using high-powered radar beams from a space satellite.
The collision site that first birthed the Himalayan Mountain Range continues to host and propagate tectonic stress. The colliding plates store up energy, some of which is released via the numerous earthquakes that rumble across the plates' fault lines each year.
Studying the microplates can offer geologists a more intimate history of tectonic stress in the region, but scientists have even grander aims. They hope to detail how the collision and the rise of the Himalayas changed global climate patterns.
"Knowing this age is particularly important for understanding the link between the growth of mountain belts and major climate change," Matthews added.
The work may also usher in a new wave of ocean floor mapping. Currently, scientists say they have more accurate maps of Pluto than of the deep ocean floor. But that's changing.
"Roughly 90 percent of the seafloor is uncharted by ships and it would take 200 ship-years of time to make a complete survey of the deep ocean outside continental shelves, at a cost of between two- to three billion US dollars," explained study co-author David Sandwell from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "That's why advances in comparatively low-cost satellite technology are the key to charting the deep, relatively unknown abyssal plains, at the bottom of the ocean."