deep-sea trench

deep-sea trench
or oceanic trench

Any long, narrow, steep-sided depression in the ocean bottom in which maximum oceanic depths (24,000–36,000 ft, or 7,000–11,000 m) occur.

The deepest known depression of this kind is the Mariana Trench. Most trenches occur at subduction zones, where one tectonic plate is thrust under another.

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also called  oceanic trench  

      any long, narrow, steep-sided depression in the ocean bottom in which maximum oceanic depths (approximately 7,300 to more than 11,000 m [24,000 to 36,000 feet]) occur. The deepest known depression of this kind is the Mariana Trench, which lies east of the Mariana Islands in the western North Pacific Ocean.

      A brief treatment of deep-sea trenches follows. For full treatment, see ocean: Deep-sea trenches (ocean).

      Trenches generally lie seaward of and parallel to adjacent island arcs or mountain ranges of the continental margins. Of the Earth's 20 major trenches, 17 are found in the Pacific. The only Atlantic trenches are the Puerto Rico Trench north of the Caribbean islands and the South Sandwich Trench east of Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica. The single major Indian Ocean trench is the Java Trench south of Indonesia.

      The cross sections of trenches generally are V-shaped with steeper landward sides. Typical slopes range between 4° and 16°, although slopes as steep as 45° have been measured in the Tonga Trench of the equatorial South Pacific. Narrow, flat abyssal plains of ponded sediment generally occupy trench axes.

      Geophysical data provide important clues concerning the origin of trenches. No abnormalities in the flow of internal Earth heat or variations in the Earth's magnetic field occur at trenches. Precision measurements reveal that the force of gravity generally is lower than normal, however. These negative gravity anomalies are interpreted to mean that the segments of the lithosphere (crust and upper mantle comprising the rigid, outermost shell of the Earth) which underlie trenches are being forced down against buoyant isostatic forces.

      This interpretation of gravity data is substantiated by seismological studies. All trenches are associated with zones of earthquake foci. Along the periphery of the Pacific Ocean, earthquakes occur close to and landward of the trenches, at depths within the Earth of 55 km (34 miles) or less. With increased landward distance away from the trenches, earthquakes occur at greater and greater depths—500 km or more. Seismic foci thus define tabular zones approximately 20 km thick that dip landward at about 45° beneath the continents. Analyses of these seismic zones and of individual earthquakes suggest that the seismicity results from the descent of a lithospheric plate with its associated crust into the asthenosphere (the partially molten layer beneath the lithosphere); oceanic trenches are topographic expressions of this movement.

      The sinking of oceanic lithosphere helps to explain the relative scarcity of sediment that has accumulated within the trenches. Small quantities of brown or red clay, siliceous organic remains, volcanic ash and lapilli, and coarse, graded layers that result from turbidity (sediment-laden) currents and from the slumping of the trench walls occur at trench axes. Sediments on trench walls shallower than 4,500 m are predominantly calcareous foraminiferal oozes. Large quantities of sediment cannot accumulate because they either are dragged into the Earth's interior by the plunging oceanic lithosphere or are distorted into folded masses and molded into new material of the continental periphery.

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Universalium. 2010.

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