Estimating the spreading rate of Atlantic and Pacific ridges

Audrey Huerta, Central Washington University

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Initial Publication Date: June 1, 2012


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.

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upper level undergrad/ graduate level course in tectonics/geodynamics

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

familiarity with matlab
high-school math

How the activity is situated in the course

stand-alone exercise


Content/concepts goals for this activity

understand why ocean bathymetry varies in a systematic way
appreciate how spreading velocity controls bathymetry of ocean

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

transforming mathematical equation into matlab script
appreciate that "all models are wrong, but some models are useful" i.e., the modeled bathymetry does not perfectly match the real bathymetry, but can capture the general subsidence pattern.

Other skills goals for this activity

writing equations in matlab
plotting data in matlab

Description and Teaching Materials

For this lab students are provided with a handout describing the concepts of subsidence of aging oceanic lithosphere and the equation relating ocean subsidence to age. They are then provided data files of bathymetry of the atlantic and pacific oceans.
Students then must write a script to plot the real data and the calculated bathymetry as a function of spreading velocity, and estimate the spreading velocity of each ocean by trial and error based on visual curve-matching.

Student handout for "Estimating the spreading rate of Atlantic and Pacific ridges" (Acrobat (PDF) 480kB Oct4 15)
data for "Estimating the spreading rate of Atlantic and Pacific ridges" (Matlab .MAT File 22kB Oct4 15)

Teaching Notes and Tips


References and Resources