Scientists have discovered a mysterious leak in the ocean. But this leak isn’t seeping water from the sea into the Earth’s lower crust. Instead, it’s oozing warm liquid up into the Pacific Ocean. According to a press release from the University of Washington, the hole was found on top of the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault.
This fault is located in the Pacific Northwest. The leak was initially discovered in 2015 and was named Pythia’s Oasis. Original observations of the leak at the bottom of the ocean suggested it was unlike any we’d discovered before, leaking almost-fresh water into the ocean.
However, a new paper featured in the journal Science Advances suggests that the liquid spewing up from the leak could actually be a type of tectonic lubricant. Further, the leaking of this liquid into the ocean could spell disaster for the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault.
When researchers first discovered the leak, it was nearly 16 degrees warmer than the water surrounding it. Based on new calculations, it’s believed the water seeping through the leak in the ocean could be coming from the Cascadia megathrust, where temperatures are estimated to be 300 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Why is this important? Well, loss of the fluid found in the offshore megathrust could lower the fluid pressure that is found between the sediment particles, the researchers explain. This lowered pressure could then lead to friction between the oceanic and continental tectonic plates.
In simpler terms, it could cause the tectonic plates under the ocean and those under the continental United States to lock, creating stress that could eventually result in earthquakes. While this is the first detected leak in the ocean of its kind, researchers say others may exist, possibly even nearby.
The Cascadia Subduction Zone is known for one of the largest earthquakes the world has ever experienced, which is why scientists are concerned about the leak and what it might mean for the megathrust found in this area. Of course, it didn’t quite reach the same magnitude as the massive Chile earthquake from over 1,000 years ago, but it still probably caused terrifying amounts of damage.
The hope is that this leak could help teach us more about the operations of plate tectonics, a field of study that is still fairly new for researchers. But it is also a terrifying reminder of just how much we’re at the mercy of the moving plates beneath our feet, and the consequences of their movements.