Presentation on theme: "Plate tectonics Geology 101 Fall 2013. Why does the Earth have mountains and basins? Basic question asked by many: erosion is evident everywhere, so why."— Presentation transcript:
Why does the Earth have mountains and basins? Basic question asked by many: erosion is evident everywhere, so why haven’t all mountains eroded and filled in all basins? Alfred Wegener proposed continental drift in 1912.
Evidence for continental drift Continental “fit” – South America and Africa separated by the Atlantic Similar rocks separated by the Atlantic Similar climate markers (glacial striations) separated by the Atlantic Similar fossils separated by the Atlantic
Unifying theory of geology Extension of Wegener’s continental drift theory from the early 20th century Needed not only information about rocks but also breakthroughs in geochronology and geophysics Continental drift failed to provide a sufficient mechanism (tides and wind were not enough); plate tectonics does
Mechanism(s) of tectonics First, and foremost, the second law of thermodynamics says that heat is transferred from hot bodies to cold bodies (e.g., Earth’s core to space)
Mechanism(s) of tectonics Heat transfers in three ways: radiation, conduction and convection. It is the last of these that occurs within the mantle. Convection (and internal heating) seems to keep the mantle hot and plastic enough for plates to sink into it -- may not be enough to move plates
Sea floor spreading Oceanic divergent boundaries provided evidence for plate tectonics. Paleomagnetism (the measurement of “stripes” of different polarity minerals in ocean floor rock of different ages) allowed Hess and others (1950s) to postulate the movement of the sea floor itself.
Types of divergent boundaries Between two continental plates
Hotspots are areas of magma upwelling from the mantle They can occur in the middle of a tectonic plate (e.g., Hawaii) or at a plate boundary (e.g., Iceland)
As shown below for Hawaii, the plate onto which the hotspot magma erupts continues to move, leaving a “trail” of extinct volcanoes Hotspots remain more or less stationary during their lifetime, though there is some controversy about this.
Grander synthesis: the Wilson (supercontinent) cycle J. Tuzo Wilson (1970) suggested that plate tectonics allow supercontinents to rift apart and reform over and over on a roughly half billion year cycle Evidence for this: evidence of pre- Pangea supercontinents, such as Rodinia