Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have been awarded $873,880 by the National Science Foundation to study how continental rifts create ocean basins.
For the next four years, the Missouri S&T researchers will try to understand how narrow continental rifts separated to create basins like the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. Current rift valleys are found in Africa and in the southwestern U.S. The U.S. rift is located along the Rio Grande river.
“If the current trend continues for millions of years, there will be an ocean separating western and eastern Colorado, western and eastern New Mexico, and western Texas and northern Mexico,” says Dr. Stephen Gao, professor of geophysics at Missouri S&T.
However, Gao says there have been a lot of failed rifts in the Earth’s history. One so-called failed rift is the Reelfoot in southeast Missouri, where the New Madrid seismic zone is now located.
Another aspect of the study is to try to get a better understanding of how oil and gas reserves form on continental shelves, where about 70 percent of the world’s hydrocarbons are found.
In addition to working in the U.S., the S&T researchers will conduct field studies in Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.
“Fifty earthquake-detecting instruments called seismographs will be installed across the rifted valleys in Africa to image the deep structure of the Earth,” Gao says. “The techniques are similar to the methods doctors use to image the body.”
During the geophysical study in Africa, waves from earthquakes will be used to gather information. According to Gao, remote sensing data analysis and surface geology observations will also be conducted.
Gao is leading a group that includes three other S&T researchers: Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam, professor of geology; Dr. John Hogan, associate professor of geology; and Dr. Kelly Liu, professor of geophysics.