UW Professor's Work Published in Nature

March 29, 2010
Man in ski hat
Kenneth W. Sims

A University of Wyoming associate professor's research has helped to provide understanding on an important part of the ocean floor and the construction of mid-ocean ridges between South Africa and Antarctica.

Kenneth W. Sims, in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, and his colleague and former student, J.J. Standish, now at Harvard University, report their findings in a paper published Sunday in Nature Geoscience, the international weekly journal of science. The paper is titled "Young off-axis volcanism along the ultraslow-spreading Southwest Indian Ridge."

In the paper, Sims and Standish show that unexpectedly young lava flows on the Southwest Indian Ridge are connected to faults under the ultraslow-spreading ridges, or underwater mountain ranges, in the area.

Their work also demonstrates that ultraslow-spreading environments, which have not been very well-explored, are distinct from faster spreading ridges.

The mid-ocean ridges of the world are connected and form a single global mid-oceanic ridge system that is part of every ocean, making the mid-oceanic ridge system the longest mountain range in the world.

In addition to mapping and measuring the chemistry of the lavas from the Southwest Indian Ridge, the work of Sims and Standish helps advance the study of mid-ocean ridges on Earth. A mid-ocean ridge demarcates the boundary between two tectonic plates, and consequently is termed a divergent plate boundary.

"We actually know more about volcanism and magmatism on Mars than we do here, because we can see Mars more clearly than we can see into our oceans," says Sims. "It's been a world of discovery to look at mid-ocean ridges and ocean crusts."

Of Sims' and Standish's research, Cambridge University professor John MacLennan says, "Widely dispersed, young lavas observed at an ultraslow-spreading ridge provide impetus for the redevelopment of models of oceanic magmatism."

To read the paper, go to the Nature Web site at www.nature.com.

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