An Israeli scholar’s time-traveling adventure in the Earth’s crust could explain the layout of the world

An Israeli scholar's time-traveling adventure in the Earth's crust could explain the layout of the world

An Israeli-Dutch research team says it has uncovered the secret to why the world is the way it is – from the location and shape of the continents to the lay of the land in the mountain ranges.

The tectonic plates did not move randomly, but rather in a previously unknown chain reaction in which one event in the Earth’s crust triggered another, sometimes millions of years later.

After spending years studying the ocean floor, the team has just published peer-reviewed research in the journal Nature Geoscience. He says volcanic eruptions 105 million years ago beneath Madagascar set off a domino effect of other similar events that determined the Earth’s appearance today.

The research focuses on how tectonic plates – pieces of the Earth’s crust and upper mantle – have behaved over time. “Until today we had a pretty poor understanding of the history of plate motions and tectonic events that happened a long time ago, but that has changed,” Professor Roi Granot told The Times of Israel.

“For the first time, we now have an organizing principle that explains how one tectonic event drove another, and so on,” he said. “We’ve never had such documentation before, and our observation shows that there is causality between events, with one triggering the next.”

Granot, a geoscientist at Ben Gurion University, added: “It gives us a framework to understand when and why the world saw the creation of mountain belts, volcanic activity, ocean formation, climate and much more. again”.

An illustration of the new “chain reaction” theory of plate tectonics. Ma means “million years”. (courtesy of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Granot and his colleagues have documented what they believe to be the major events shaping Europe, Asia and Africa, and say they believe similar chain reactions will be seen in other regions.

The research allows them to gradually piece together the past – but they say it doesn’t yet provide insight into future movements the Earth’s crust may have in store.

A magnetometer deployed under a ship (courtesy of Pr Roi Granot)

Granot worked with Dutch academics Professor Douwe van Hinsbergen and Derya Gürer to track tectonic activity by gathering ground information from the central and northern Atlantic. Much of it came from hundreds of magnetometers – devices for measuring the strength of magnetic fields – that have been lying around under ships in recent years, some of them several kilometers below the surface.

By analyzing the magnetic field of rocks, magnetometers provided data that Granot and his colleagues used to piece together the history of plate tectonics, as archaeologists use carbon dating to build their hypothesis about the past.

Pr Roi Granot (courtesy of Pr Roi Granot)

Magnetometer data was not considered capable of giving a clear picture of plate history until a breakthrough by Granot 10 years ago showed that the data can be used to date oceanic crust.

Gürer, a researcher at Utrecht University and the Australian National University, commented: “This is the first time that evidence has been found for a plate tectonic chain reaction.

“With this research, we have dissected a mechanism to explain why there are short periods of time when plates suddenly change direction,” she said.

“These plate movements affect mountain formation, marine gateways, ocean circulation patterns, volcanism, and even global climate.”

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