In Wegener’s View What Caused Mountain Ranges To Form – Satellite image of California’s San Andreas fault, where two continental plates collide. Credits: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and US/Japan ASTER Science Team
Fifty years ago, there was an earthquake that changed the long-held belief that the Earth’s continents were standing still.
In Wegener’s View What Caused Mountain Ranges To Form
In 1966, J. Tuzo Wilson published Is The Atlantic Open and Closed? in the journal Nature. The Canadian author came up with the idea that the continents and oceans are constantly moving on our planet. Called plate tectonics, the theory explains the movement of the Earth’s surface. It describes tectonic activity (such as earthquakes and mountain formation) at the edge of the continental shelf (for example, the San Andreas fault in California and the Andes in South America).
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After 50 years, with great interest in where our planet is and where it is headed, scientists are rethinking which plate tectonics is explaining this work well – and the confusion where new discoveries might fit. Proof for a theory
Although the theory of plate tectonics is less widely accepted than Barack Obama, German scientist Alfred Wegener first put forward the idea in 1912.
He says that the lands of the world can now be put together like a jigsaw puzzle. After analyzing the fossil record showing the species now living in isolated places, meteorologist Wegener suggests that the continents were once connected. But without a mechanism to explain how continents can “drift”, many geologists have rejected the idea. His status as an “innovator”, combined with anti-German sentiment in the post-World War I era, meant that his ideas were considered the best.
In 1966, Tuzo Wilson built on early ideas to provide the missing link: The Atlantic Ocean had opened and closed at least once before. By studying rock formations, he discovered that parts of New England and Canada were European, and parts of Norway and Scotland were American. From this evidence, Wilson shows that the Atlantic Ocean opened, closed, and opened again, taking over parts of neighboring land.
Alfred Wegener And His Theory Of Continental Drift
The Earth’s crust and the upper part of the mantle (the layer next to our planet’s core) run about 150 kilometers deep. Together, they are called the lithosphere and form “plates” in plate tectonics. We now know that there are fifteen large plates covering the Earth’s surface, moving at the speed of our growing fingers.
Based on radio frequency dating, we know that there have been no oceans for more than 200 million years, even though our continents have evolved greatly. The open and closed model of the oceans – known as the Wilson cycle – describes how the Earth’s surface spreads.
A continent split due to changes in the flow of molten rock inside the Earth. That also works in the lithosphere, changing the direction of plate movement. For example, this is how South America left Africa. The next step is continental drift, ocean floor expansion, ocean formation – and hello, the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, the Atlantic Ocean is still opening up, creating a new tectonic plate in the middle of the ocean and making the flight from New York to London a few inches longer each year.
The sea closes when they?? The tectonic plates sink back down again, a process astronomers call subduction. Along the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States, oceans sink beneath the continents and into the mantle beneath the lithosphere, causing the St Helens and Cascade mountains to move slowly.
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In addition to spreading (building) and subduction (destroying), tectonic plates can jostle each other – often causing large earthquakes. These associations, also discovered by Tuzo Wilson in the 1960s, are called “conservative”. These three processes are carried out at the edge of the plate.
But the theory of plate tectonics stumbles when it tries to explain something. For example, what causes mountains and earthquakes to occur on the interior of continents, far from the boundaries of plates? Gone, don’t forget
Over the past 20 years, computer power and computational techniques have allowed researchers to peer deeper into the Earth’s crust and explore deeper parts of our tectonic plate. Around the world, we see many examples of the remains of ancient continental drifts that formed the interior of our present continent.
Ancient continental drift maps may represent hidden areas of tectonic activity. These old underground ideas can still dominate the surface system – albeit below the surface. If these deep structures (more than 30 km below) were rebuilt, they would cause new destructive tectonic activity.
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It seems that the previous panels (of which there are many) may not be gone. These inherited structures contributed to geological evolution and may be the reason we see geological activity on the interior of continents today. An object 2,900 km deep has fallen
Modern geological images also show two chemical “blobs” in the upper crust of the Earth’s mantle – believed to have come from our planet.
These hot and humid climates lie beneath Africa and the Pacific Ocean. Lying more than 2,900 kilometers below the Earth’s surface, they are difficult to study. And no one knows where they come from or what they do. When these rare plates interact with the cold ocean floor that has carved the surface of the deep mantle, they create a warm mantle that forms the surface of the volcano.
Does this mean that plate tectonics controls how these piles behave? Or is the unknown deep space controlling what we see on the surface, by releasing hot matter to split the continents?
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The current plate boundary (white) contains a hidden old plate boundary that can be reactivated to control plate tectonics (yellow). The area with a negative scar under the crust is marked with a yellow cross. Credit: Philip Heron, CC BY
The answers to these questions could shake the very foundations of plate tectonics. Plate tectonics in different times and places
The interior of the early Earth was much warmer – and therefore with different properties – than present-day conditions. Plate tectonics then may not be the same as the traditional theory we talk about today. Our understanding of the modern world may have little to do with its origins; we can also think of a very different world.
In the coming years, we can apply what we’ve discovered about how plate tectonics started here in other real worlds – the billions of exoplanets in the habitable zone of our universe.
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So far, surprisingly, Earth is the only planet known to have plate tectonics. For example, in our solar system, Venus is considered to be Earth’s twin – only a hot climate and no complete plate tectonics.
Arizona State seismologist Ed Garnero summarizes how we got there in more than 100 fertile years of Earth. Credit: Ed Garnero, CC BY
What is surprising is that the planet’s ability to create complex life is closely related to plate tectonics. The planet’s sealed surface has helped create Venus’s toxic atmosphere containing 96% CO₂. On Earth, subduction helps push carbon into the Earth’s interior and out of the atmosphere.
It is still difficult to explain how complex life erupted on our planet 500 years ago, but the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is aided by continental crust. A slow process begins with carbon dioxide mixing with rain to break up continental rocks. This combination can form carbon-containing limestone that will eventually drift to the ocean floor. Long-term mining processes (even in geologic time) can eventually produce more energy. Plate tectonics took only 3 billion years to achieve the correct carbon balance for life on Earth. Theory is working right now, but what will happen in the future?
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Fifty years on from Wilson’s 1966 book, geologists have moved from continent to believer who don’t think any movement can leave a permanent mark on our planet.
Life here would be very different if the tectonic plates changed its shape – as we know it is possible. Changes in mantle temperature can affect the interaction of our lithosphere with the rest of the interior, disrupting plate tectonics. Or the chemicals that make up the great continents could break from their steady state, causing massive volcanic activity as they release material into their oceans.
It’s hard to understand what our future will look like if we don’t understand our beginnings. By uncovering the secrets of the past, we can predict the future movements of our tectonic plates.
Review: Plate tectonics: new findings fill a 50-year-old theory of the Earth’s crust (2016, July 5) Accessed July 22, 2023 from https://news/2016-07-plate-tectonics-year-old-theory-earth.html
Paleozoic Plate Tectonics
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