NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A photo of Jonathan Snow and
his team is available on the Web at http://www.uh.edu/admin/media/nr/2007/08aug/jsnow_godzillaph.html.
A high-resolution photo is available by contacting Ann Holdsworth.
WANTED: UH RESEARCHER
AND STUDENTS LOOK FOR ‘GODZILLA’
Rocks to be Analyzed at UH, Could Solve Geology Debate
HOUSTON, August 3, 2007 – Researchers and students from
the University of Houston are setting sail this month in search
of “Godzilla.” Like the giant irradiated dinosaur of
fictional fame featured in numerous films, this Godzilla can be
found at the bottom of the ocean floor. But that's where the comparison
Six UH students and Jonathan Snow, an assistant professor in the
Geosciences Department, will take part in a four-week international
expedition to explore a 10-million-year-old “tear” in
the Earth’s crust. Nicknamed “Godzilla Mullion”
because of to its size and its location south of Japan, it is more
than 60 miles wide and is the largest known crustal tear worldwide.
Also known as an oceanic core complex, Godzilla Mullion formed
when the normal oceanic crust – made of the volcanic rock
basalt – is torn apart and deep crustal and mantle rocks,
which are normally rare on the Earth’s surface, were exposed
directly on the sea floor without their volcanic cover. What’s
unique about Godzilla Mullion is not just its size, but also how
quickly it formed.
“The normal rate is between 20 millimeters/year and 10 centimeters/year,
though there are some faster and some slower,” Snow said.
“We think Godzilla Mullion was spreading pretty quickly at
about 80 millimeters/year before it stopped completely. The rate
of spreading is one of the things we want to determine.”
Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and UH,
Snow and his team will work with the University of Tokyo and the
Japan Hydrographic Office to reach Godzilla Mullion. While his Japanese
counterparts will use ultra sensitive equipment to measure magnetic
anomalies and determine the exact spreading rate, Snow and his team
will use tried-and-true methods to retrieve rocks from the 5-mile
“Even in this age of manned submersibles and robots, both
tethered and self-guided, the good old rock dredge is still our
primary tool for studying the composition of the oceanic basement,”
The rock dredge is a large steel scoop attached to a 5-mile long
wire that is lowered to the ocean floor. After being dragged behind
the ship, it returns to the surface with between 200 to 400 pounds
of rocks. The large volume of oceanic rocks is expected to help
solve a long-standing conundrum in the geoscience community.
“For a long time, certain rocks on land, known as ‘ophiolites’
have been thought to possibly originate in the same kind of ocean
floor environment as Godzilla Mullion and to have been pushed up
on land by tectonic forces,” Snow said. “But until now,
we had very few lower crust and mantle samples from this environment
to compare them with.”
The expedition will be divided into two two-week legs in August
and September and will be led by Snow and one of his graduate students.
The rocks will then be analyzed in the new laser ablation trace
element laboratory at UH. The results of trace metal analyses of
the rocks will help determine whether they are geochemically similar
to ophiolites, and whether ophiolites can form in a similar environment.
“Everyone hopes that any gigantic, prehistoric creatures
sleeping there don’t mind all the racket,” Snow said.
About the University of Houston
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