UAF plate research published by major science journal

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A longtime argument over plate tectonics in Asia is settled in a research paper published this month in a national journal, according to its authors, scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The study is featured in the Oct. 19 issue of the journal ''Science.''

The data was collected over the last decade by Geophysical Institute professor Jeff Freymueller, graduate student Qizhi Chen and several Chinese scientists.

Freymueller said the findings focus on the collision of the Indian plate with the Eurasian plate near the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. The Indian plate moves into the Eurasian plate at a rate of about 4 centimeters a year.

''Four centimeters a year is 40 kilometers in a million years. In 10 million years, 400 kilometers of land has to disappear,'' Freymueller said. ''That is a lot of material.''

Those studying the region have been split into two camps.

Some believe that all of the material gets squeezed toward the east. Others think the material goes up, making the mountains taller.

''It is a pretty fundamental question and there has been a lot of debate about which of these is more correct,'' Freymueller told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Little data has been available to back either side.

The truth, he said, lies somewhere between the two theories.

Basically, the material on the eastern portion of the collision is moving east, while material in the middle seems to be pushing up.

The data was gathered using Global Positioning System measurements. Freymueller said his team, as well as teams of Chinese scientists, put permanent markers, such as bolts, into the region's bedrock and then periodically measured the location of the markers using a GPS.

The region of the Indian and Eurasian plates is the only present-day example of the collision of continents. It is a model of what might have occurred in the past in other parts of the world, Freymueller said.

The next step is to come up with a numerical model to explain the movement, he said. Chen, a doctoral student, will spend much of his remaining year of study working on the model.

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