Estimating the spreading rate of the Atlantic and Pacific ridges

Audrey Huerta, Central Washington University

This page is a supplement to the original activity description found here

Short description of the activity

Given maps of bathymetry of Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, students estimate spreading rate of each ridge writing a matlab script that plots a line of bathymetry, and calculated bathymetry as a function of spreading rate. They then vary the estimated spreading rate manually until they produce a bathymetric curve that closely resembles the real bathymetry.

How does this activity lend itself to teaching with MATLAB?

This activity uses two of matlab's best assets: easy computation and graphing, which enhances the student's ability to understand the underlying processes controlling the shape of our ocean floors.

Students will realize the ease of computing and plotting equations, and will be able to see how varying parameters (velocity) will change the result of the model (bathymetry). Thus students can quickly and easily understand the fundamental earth processes.

Specific adaptations

Rather than determine the spreading rate by visual curve-matching, students would write a code to determine the best-fit velocity by minimizing the misfit between the measured and modeled bathymetry.


Students submit:
  1. their m-files, and final plots with optimized velocity (which should be nearly identical to solution key)
  2. a discussion of how changing the velocity changes the shape of the bathymetry
  3. a discussion of possible reasons the modeled bathymetry does not exactly match the measured bathymetry