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The Seduction of Subduction

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This:

Cascades from Skykomish River, near Gold Bar

Cascades from Skykomish River, near Gold Bar

This is why I love the word subduction.  Every time I’m reading about the geology of a region, when I come across that word, I get a tingle down ye olde spine.  Because I know we’re in for it.  I know the landscape’s going to be exciting.  I know we’re in for volcanoes and earthquakes and some really wild metamorphism, accretionary wedges and the whole shebang.  It’s all there.  Tell me we’ve got a subduction zone on our hands, and you’ll see me bounce like a Jack Russell terrier who’s just eaten its owner’s entire stock of No Doz and chased it down with a case of Full Throttle.

In a subduction zone, you get some really wild rocks, rocks that’ve been through it, rocks that have been chewed up and spit out, rocks that, were they a letter, would get the post office in deep trouble for the amount of folding, spindling and mutilating they’ve endured.

Migmatite, Skykomish River

Migmatite, Skykomish River

A subduction zone takes your basic rocks and makes them sublime.  It pushes them down and raises them up.  It takes bits of the seafloor and chucks them up on land.

Pillow Basalts, Olympic Mountains

Pillow Basalts, Olympic Mountains

It takes your basic quiet marine shales, which had been resting peacefully in nice horizontal layers on the sea bed, and squeezes and cooks them into phyllite.  And then it hoists them high, standing them on end, and makes mountains of them.

Phyllite, Olympic Mountains

Phyllite, Olympic Mountains

Right now, right beneath me, the Juan de Fuca plate is subducting beneath the North American continent.  That subduction is the reason I’ve got land to sit on: over millions of years, subduction zone after subduction zone has formed around here, as oceanic plates meet continental, and as the seafloor goes down, bits of island arcs and seafloor sediments and appreciable chunks of the seafloor itself have gotten plastered on, creating the majority of Washington state, and the mountains that lured me here.  It’s a dangerous place to live.  This beauty does come with risk: chains of violent volcanoes, the certainty of an eventual megathrust earthquake.  But it’s worth the risk.

I’ve been seduced by subduction.  Looking at the result, who wouldn’t be?

Olympic Mountains

Olympic Mountains

(Originally published at En Tequila Es Verdad)

Dana Hunter About the Author: Dana Hunter is a science blogger, SF writer, and geology addict whose home away from SciAm is En Tequila Es Verdad. Follow her on Twitter: @dhunterauthor. Follow on Twitter @dhunterauthor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. tuned 10:23 am 03/20/2014

    Geology, science need better writers like this.
    The ability to kidnap, then transport and enthrall the mind is imperative to building new scientists.
    That’s why creative writing is an art that is attainable and should be attained.
    Good grammar don’t always git attenshin. X>

    Link to this
  2. 2. Eromanga 10:58 pm 03/20/2014

    For me the tastiest phrase in geology is “island arc”. Which is closely associated with subduction zones.

    Enjoy your posts. Thanks.

    Link to this

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