Researchers have discovered a hidden passageway beneath central Panama through which wind from the Earth's ''mantle'' is actively “blowing.”
Scientists believe that the secret passage beneath Panama holds the clue behind the reason that rocks from Earth's mantle are found over 1,609 kilometers from where they originated.
Located approximately 100 km below the surface of the Earth, the opening may allow a flow of mantle materials to travel all the way from beneath the Galápagos Islands.
The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
Scientists believe the South American and Caribbean tectonic plates collided around 15 million years ago, causing volcanic activity that eventually formed a thin strip of land linking the Americas and separating the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
The forging of the Americas resulted in a mass migration of animals, while the separation of the two oceans transformed the world’s climate and prompted the development of new species.
According to David Bekaert, a postdoctoral scholar in marine chemistry and geochemistry at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, the Cocos tectonic plate is diving down and pushing oceanic crust under the continental crust of North America.
"Different sources of geological material typically have different compositions, so we can track the contribution from different regions of the mantle," Bekaert said.
The subduction of the Cocos plate under North America has the capacity to cause large earthquakes, including the 2017 Chiapas quake, a magnitude-8.1 that killed dozens.
"We found that in particular places of Central America, namely western Panama and behind the volcanic arc in Costa Rica, we have some exotic signatures [of geochemistry] that really resemble what you have in the Galápagos Islands," Bekaert said.
"Just beneath Panama, there is a hole, a window through the slab, that allows for the influx of this mantle component," he added.
(With inputs from agencies)