For the first time, scientists have documented tectonic plate movement sucking water into the porous mix of rock and sediment beneath the ocean. After a series of earthquakes along the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the Pacific Northwest grabbed their attention, researchers detected a 30-day drop in water pressure on the seafloor. They determined that Earth’s crust had stretched like a sponge, drawing water in and down.
Oregon State University oceanographer Robert Dziak says that depending on the size and frequency of these events, their spongelike effects could influence ocean chemistry and temperatures worldwide, making present climate-change models inaccurate. In the past, scientists had only noticed that plate activity contributes new material and gases to the seafloor.
“There’s always something new,” says Dziak. “Until this event, we thought everything at the ridge was only adding to the chemical and physical composition of the ocean. Here’s an example of where it is in fact changing the ocean through removal.”