Earth Mapped with 'CT Scanning' Technology: Discovering Hotspots (VIDEO)

First Posted: Sep 07, 2015 03:08 PM EDT

Earth may have undergone its first ever CT scan. Researchers have used seismic waves from large earthquakes to map the Earth's interior to better understand its volcanic processes.

The researchers mapped mantle plumes by analyzing the paths of seismic waves bouncing around Earth's interior after 273 strong earthquakes that shook the globe over the past 20 years.

The new, high-resolution map of the mantle, which is the hot rock located beneath Earth's crust but above the planet's iron core, not only shows the connections for many hotspots on the planet, but also reveals that below about 1,000 kilometers, the plumes are between 600 and 1,000 kilometers across. That's up to five times wider than scientists first thought.

"No one has seen before these stark columnar objects that are contiguous all the way from the bottom of the mantle to the upper part of the mantle," said Scott French, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The new map also shows that the bases of these plumes are anchored at the core-mantle boundary in two huge blobs of hot rock, each about 5,000 kilometers in diameter, that are likely denser than surrounding rock. The researchers estimate that two anchors, which are directly opposite one another under Africa and the Pacific Ocean, have been in the same spots for 250 million years.

The findings could be huge when it comes to better understanding the Earth's interior and the different processes that occur beneath the surface. More specifically, it could tell scientists more about the volcanic activity in the region.

The findings are published in the journal Nature. 

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