Maxwell Maxwell Fracture Zone Maxwell Legacy Concepts
In a nutshell

Maxwell shares with Faraday and Kelvin the comparatively rare honour of having a sub-sea fracture zone named after a historical person. Good company. The naming is another tribute to Maxwell from the second half of the 20th century. The zone is 21 km long, located along the mid-Atlantic ridge about level with the Bay of Biscay, as shown on the map below. More precisely its coordinates are at 47.64° N, 27.53° W.

Undoubtedly the 19th century trans-Atlantic cable layers encountered comparatively swift changes in depth resulting from the evolution of the mid-Atlantic ridge but I have not seen any account with contemporary questioning as to why they occur. Cable layers are by and large practical people who get on with the job in difficult circumstances. Certainly the concept of plate tectonics had to wait until the 20th century to be explicitly proposed and then until the second half of that century to be taken seriously. The Maxwell Fracture Zone involves changes in depth over a short distance from about 1500 m to 3000 m. Fracture zones affect not only seismic activity but deep water circulation patterns.

The Maxwell Fracture Zone and others along the mid-Atlantic ridge are well outside national boundaries. They are special places that give evidence of how plate tectonics is working and its rate of progress. Because they are exceptional, they are also home to specialized marine life and mineral nodules. To preserve the scientific evidence from destruction from commercial exploitation, international bans have been in place on both fishing and mining over substantial areas, including the Maxwell Fracture Zone.


Atlantic depth map
Map showing in particular the mid-atlantic ridge where tectonic plates are moving apart, separating the Americas from Europe. Courtesy Wikipedia

Location of Maxwell fracture zone

Map of the North Atlantic showing fracture zones, based on an image at The Maxwell fracture zone is outlined in red.