When the doors of the earth slam shut

[Image: Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica].

"Imagine if plate tectonics stopped tomorrow," New Scientist suggests. A world without tectonics would be a world without earthquakes, the continents frozen in place, coastlines locked where they are. New mountains could never form, islands would stop emerging from the sea, and apartment insurance would be considerably cheaper.
While the end of tectonics is "not likely to happen any time soon," the article reminds us, "a controversial new theory says it could [come to an end] in about 350 million years." In fact, global tectonic activity may have ceased once before – "around 1.6 to 1.1 billion years ago, as a supercontinent called Rodinia formed." At that point, "all plate tectonics could have ceased for 100 million years." This caused the earth's surface to thicken, forming "a large band of granites" that now "stretches across the northern hemisphere."
But the internal roiling heat and liquid rock of the earth's core and mantle gradually intensified, growing strong enough to punch through the earth's rocky surface; this, kick-starting an era of volcanic eruption strong enough to break the continents apart, "would have got plate tectonics going again."
The belts of the earth were soon turning; new mountains began to rise; island chains drifted, crashing into one another; coasts trembled from below as their guts turned to gravel.
And it all may happen again: according to Paul Silver, of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, the doors of the earth may slam shut in 350 million years, locking closed – perhaps initiating another one-hunded million years of terrestrial calm.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Anamoglam said...

Has he said anything about the idea that the magnetics of the poles of the Earth, and their movement can affect the movement of the liquid around it? I wonder if it does. If kepler were right(who knows?) isn't there a large tetrahedron in the middle? If this were to be oriented towards a pole, and suddenly this magnetic pole were to be switched (a passing heavy-gravity object, an alignment of planets) wouldn't the rotation of a faceted object stir these magnetic liquids? Thus causing even larger plate movent and thus massive earthquakery?

December 27, 2006 8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that tectonic massage-therapy idea of yours is sounding better every day.

December 27, 2006 4:42 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

My favorite story of geology is the Iron Catastrophe.

The earth was originally formed of homogenous rocky material, largely iron with some silica and aluminum and some impurities. A little radioactive stuff mixed in combined with the excellent insulating properties of stone leads to a warming interior. After a million or ten years the interior approaches the melting point of iron. As the iron melts, because it is heaviest of the common elements it begins to sink, and the differentiation of the planet interior we see today begins.

As the iron begins to sink, because of friction, it adds heat to the surounding material and the melting speeds up. At a certain point in time the temperature and conditions are such that the remaining solid iron all melts and begins to sink. This is the iron catastrophe.

It is theorized that at this point the entire planet melted and de-homogenized. The surface, that had been stable and settled for millions of years was pulled down and under. Anything that had happened, any trace of that process was entirely comsumed. Millions and millions of years of the planets history left no trace. Gone.

But we can imagine . . .

December 28, 2006 4:46 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Now I know where my socks all went...

In any case, I like the iron catastrophe. Surely the US can build a weapon that could do that all over again? The Earth Weapon.

December 28, 2006 4:31 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

if ignorance were heavy, we'd be half-way there

December 28, 2006 6:06 PM  
Anonymous Clare said...

Well what a small world - I comment on someone's blog (I've 'met' (virtually) via a blog of a blog) and he mentions a New Scientist article by Paul Silver about Rodinia I might be interested in so I google looking for that, which brings me here... and find you have interviewed my friend Jeff Vandermeer.

Anyway, glad I arrived - it's an excellent blog with lots of fascinating stuff. No doubt I shall be back.

December 31, 2006 10:39 AM  
Anonymous cenoxo said...

The belts of the earth were soon turning; new mountains began to rise; island chains drifted, crashing into one another; coasts trembled from below as their guts turned to gravel.

Today's terrifying look into what might happen tomorrow! What if science miscalculates, and the world totters on the brink of destruction?

THANK GOD it's only a New Scientist article!

January 06, 2007 1:02 AM  

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