Landscape futures

What does the earth have in store for itself? The next million years, Discovery Channel News informs us, will be just like "the last million years. That means plenty of meteor impacts, supervolcanic eruptions, megaquakes and worse."


As Steven Dutch, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, claims: "Events that are rare or unknown in recorded history become almost inevitable, even frequent, in the near geologic future." This means that some unbelievably exciting things will happen on an Earth that I, certainly, will not be around to see – and that, perhaps, no human at all will witness.
These landscape futures include the relocation of Niagara Falls. The hard, dolomite cliffs over which the Falls currently plunge "are eroding at a rapid clip," we read. "Once worn away, the softer rock upstream will erode even faster until it encounters another layer of hard rock at Tonawanda, NY, and creates another set of falls there in about 14,000 years." Then, in California, "the temperamental San Andreas fault will set off about 7,000 earthquakes of magnitude eight in the next million years, offsetting the geography of San Francisco more than 15 miles. That will split the San Francisco Peninsula into a fork. Over the same million years the Hawaiian Islands will have moved about 60 miles northwest." This will happen at the same time that Loihi, a currently active undersea volcano, will grow into "a new island rivaling today’s Mauna Loa."
Elsewhere, "the Mississippi River outlet will shift in location many times, leaving today's New Orleans far from the river, but still sinking."
Potentially more interesting still, "even the stars will show obvious signs of change in as few as 10,000 years." In other words, "our solar system will have moved 7.5 light years in its orbit around the center of the Milky Way, altering the shapes of familiar constellations." This, of course, opens up the possibility of naming this future zodiac in advance – even devising moving constellations, animated images shifting as the planet moves, astral films starcasted across a million years.
But it is also worth remembering that London is sinking – indeed, the whole of southeast England is sinking – roughly 8" every century. That may not sound like much, but there are 10,000 centuries in a million years; so, providing such a rate remains constant, London – amazingly, sadly, absurdly, excitingly – will be more than 6500-feet below ground, buried more than a mile in the muck and clay. The whole city will then fossilize.
Elsewhere, Taiwan will continue to move toward mainland China, setting off earthquakes – and complicating any long-term hopes of political independence; the Alps will continue to rise as the Mediterranean is squeezed shut by the northern approach of Africa; and, if recent information is to be believed, most of Italy could be adrift with Saharan dunes, the equatorial deserts of the world expanding both north and south.
Rome, abraded with overheated breezes, where statues of saints are reduced to sand.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

For what it's worth, the tipping of the British Isles is caused by post-glacial rebound - where the weight of the last Ice Age glaciers is still being recovered from, and so the Scottish Highlands are rising, depressing London (in several ways...) - and so it's highly unlikely that the city will actually continue sinking more than a mile into the earth. But it's still an interesting proposition... Especially if one considers architectural means for dealing with that situation, i.e. how could you build something that would prevent/survive such a slow catastrophe?

June 12, 2006 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Especially if one considers architectural means for dealing with that situation, i.e. how could you build something that would prevent/survive such a slow catastrophe?"

Puts one in mind of BLAME!, or the dead, cyclopean city in At the Mountains of Madness.

June 12, 2006 2:15 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

San Fransisco has been offsetting itself from the continet and much of American culture for decades, or at least since the 60's. Can a culture have any sway over a tectonic plate, or the other way around?

Geologic Landscapes as Metaphors?

The Indian Sub-Continet vs. Pakistani Kashmir?

It's late and Montana is going nowhere tonight.

June 13, 2006 2:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the right-lateral strike slip motion continues the SF area will appear as a peninsula over the long course of geologic time, however, if this motion changes to become more oblique toward normal or thrust faulting, then these series of events may suggest a different shaped landform. i.e. a possible reinvention of the coast ranges.
I thought Scotland was still rebounding anyways?

June 14, 2006 12:29 AM  
Blogger jwinters said...

Don't forget Africa. I believe the Great Rift Valley will have pretty much, er, rifted by then.

June 14, 2006 8:31 PM  
Anonymous JBH said...

Lights out for London? Party on!

June 15, 2006 3:02 AM  

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