The recycling of Earth’s crust in volcanoes happens much faster than scientists have previously assumed. Rock of the oceanic crust, which sinks deep into the earth due to the movement of tectonic plates, reemerges through volcanic eruptions after around 500 million years. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz obtained this result using volcanic rock samples. Previously, geologists thought this process would take about two billion years.
Virtually all of the ocean islands are volcanoes. Several of them, such as Hawaii, originate from the lowest part of the mantle. This geological process is similar to the movement of coloured liquids in a lava lamp: hot rock rises in cylindrical columns, the so-called mantle plumes, from a depth of nearly 3000 kilometres. Near the surface, it melts, because the pressure is reduced, and forms volcanoes. The plume originates from former ocean crust which early in Earth’s history sank to the bottom of the mantle. Previously, scientists had assumed that this recycling took about two billion years.
The chemical analysis of tiny glassy inclusions in olivine crystals from basaltic lava on Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii has now surprised geologists: the entire recycling process requires at most half a billion years, four times faster than previously thought.