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Lying north of the Galapagos Island archipelago, the Galapagos Spreading Center exists at the boundary of two tectonic plates, the Nazca Plate to the south and the Cocos Plate to the north. This jagged Z-shaped rift runs east to west, and is home to many geologic features, including a region with a hotspot to the east, and hundreds of seamounts to the west.
Scientists know that the GSC is an area of extension—meaning that in between the two separating plates, lava flows are slowly creating new sea floor. They also know that the rugged terrain to the west, filled with seamounts and other topographical highs, is different than the flatter, more homogenous landscape found in the east. But they're unsure how the GSC's varied features have occurred and how they relate to each other.