(Reuters) - Sydney According to geoscientists, Australia, which is riding on the world's fastest-moving continental tectonic plate, is migrating north at such a rapid pace that map co-ordinates are now inaccurate by as much as 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Jaksa and his colleagues are currently recalculating Australia's position on the planet's surface. The team says they will publish their findings in a forthcoming issue of Geology.
The leading edge of the Australian plate is being dragged towards Asia at more than 2 centimeters (0.8 inches) per year, causing earthquakes and releasing energy that creates waves that crash against coastal cliffs and erode them away.
The Australian plate is also creeping over the top of Antarctica, which causes it to melt, giving birth to new volcanoes. This process, called "volcanism without ice", was responsible for creating New Zealand.
Around seven centimetres Australia is located on one of the world's fastest-moving tectonic plates. Every year, we shift roughly seven cm northeast. This happens because part of our continent gets pushed up by parts of Antarctica breaking off and drifting north.
This movement creates new land, which then becomes submerged when sea levels rise due to global warming. New land also disappears under the water when ocean temperatures increase and glaciers melt.
The exact rate at which Australia is moving relative to other parts of the globe depends on where you look on Earth. The best available data come from a group of scientists who have been monitoring the movement of Australia's coast for more than 100 years. They've found that the country is drifting toward Asia at a rate of about 7 centimeters per year.
However, research published in 2014 showed that this trend may be changing. The new study used high-resolution satellite images to track changes to the coastline over time and discovered that between 1872 and 2009, Australia's coast shifted its position by an average of 9 meters. This indicates that it's losing ground to Asia at a rate of 3 centimeters per year.
The authors of the new study suggested that if the current trend continues, Australia will be joined to Asia by 2050 or so.
Because Australia is located on the world's fastest moving continental tectonic plate, coordinates measured in the past have changed throughout time. The continent is migrating north at a rate of around 7 millimetres per year, clashing with the Pacific Plate, which is moving west at a rate of about 11 centimetres per year. This results in part of Australia sinking under its own weight while part of it rises up due to aridity changes.
The Australian mainland is moving at a rate of about 1 inch (25 mm) per century. The oldest evidence of this movement comes from fossils that were dug up in southern Australia and date back about 25 million years. At that time, all across south-east Asia, New Zealand, and parts of South America, there was an ocean between them and Australia. Then about 6 million years ago, India joined up with the Asian continent, causing the ocean to shrink even more. About 3 million years ago, Antarctica began to melt away, allowing Australia to come out from beneath the water too.
Australia has been described as a giant moveable island because most of its topography is formed by rigid rocks that are attached only at their bases. These rocks have been moved about over time by plates shifting under them. When they slide toward each other, mountains are created; when they separate, deep valleys are exposed. This is what has happened in recent history as Australia has collided with Asia. There are still major movements today caused by the instability of the crust that binds these rocks together.
The Nazca Plate, located right off the west coast of South America, is one of the fastest moving plates. It's traveling eastward at a rate of roughly 10 centimeters each year, which is extremely quick when you think about it. The mantle underneath it is growing at a considerably slower rate of 5 cm each year. This means that there will be more and more space between the plate and the mantle as time goes on.
The Pacific Plate, which moves north and south relative to the North American Plate, is also very fast moving. It's movement can be calculated by looking at the seismicity (earthquakes) around its edge. The plate moves about 20 mm per year near Japan where it meets the Eurasia Plate.
The Antarctic Plate is fixed to the earth's crust but doesn't move relative to any other plate. It's mostly made up of rock and ice that came from all over the world and was once part of other continents. Some parts of Antarctica have moved away from other continents and formed their own land masses, such as South Africa. But overall, the continent is still attached to the rest of the world moving with it.
Mantle plumes are regions within the mantle that rise through the lithosphere, the solid outer layer of the Earth. They may contain molten material or not. If they don't melt down into the mantle they would instead form a cloud called a pumice raft which floats on top of the liquid metal.
The Pacific Plate runs the length of North America's west coast, all the way up to Alaska. The Pacific Plate, Cocos Plate, Nazca Plate, and Antarctic Plate, on the other hand, move more than 10 cm per year, the fastest movement rate of any plate tectonics. The Indian Plate moves toward Asia at 10 cm per year but is too small to be visible from space.
The Pacific Plate was once attached to the Asian Plate until it broke away about 5 million years ago. The new oceanic plate moved northward over the still-attached North American Plate, creating the great earthquake zones from California to Canada.
Since then, the Pacific Plate has been drifting northward at a rate of 3 mm per year while the North American Plate has been moving southward at 2 mm per year due to ice ages and other events that affect both plates in different ways.
As it drifts northward, the Pacific Plate sinks deeper under its neighbor, leading to an increase in pressure that causes oil and gas fields to spread out across its surface. This is why most of the world's oil reserves are found in the western part of the Pacific Plate.
The sinking of the plate also creates many volcanoes, some of which are active today. The Pacific Plate contains 80% of Earth's volcanic activity with one third occurring there.