The continents as a heat blanket

Jan 22, 2009

Drifting of the large tectonic plates and the superimposed continents is not only powered by the heat-driven convection processes in the Earth's mantle, but rather retroacts on this internal driving processes. In doing so, the continents function as a thermal blanket, which leads to an accumulation of heat underneath, and which in turn can cause the break-up of the super-continents.

These results of numerical modelling have been published by scientists from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in the latest volume of the journal Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors (Vol. 171, S. 313-322).

Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift was turned up when the driving forces for continental drift were discovered during the 50s and 60s: The enormous heat in the Earth's core and Earth's mantle generates the flow of rocks within the Earth's mantle, a process similar to the movement of warm water in a cooking pot. This heat-driven mass transport is called convection. On the Earth's surface, this process leads not only to plate movement but also to drifting of the continents floating on the plates.

To date however, there has been no realistic mathematical-physical theory describing the interaction between the convective movement in the Earths mantle and the continental drift. V. Trubitsin, M. Kaban und M. Rothacher from the GFZ have now developed a numerical model, based on the current position of the continents, the structures of the Earth's mantle obtained through geophysical measurements, and the current displacement rates on the surface. Hence they were able to calculate the future position of the continents in hundreds of millions of years.

It could be shown that the enormous heat in the Earth's interior does not generally lead to a chaotic mass transport within the Earth's mantle. On the contrary, the continents influence the heat distribution within the Earth's mantle and the associated convective mass flow. In other words the continents act as a thermal blanket causing heat to accumulate beneath. A self-regulating system develops, beginning and ending with a super-continent. This super-continent breaks apart due to heat accumulation which in turn leads to a reorganoization of mantle convection with the pieces ultimately joining again to form a large super-continent.

Paper: V. Trubitsin, M. Kaban and M. Rothacher: "Mechanical and thermal effects of floating continents on the global mantle convection", Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors (Vol. 171, S. 313-322).

Source: Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres

Explore further: Tropical Storm Genevieve forms in Eastern Pacific

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New view of Rainier's volcanic plumbing

Jul 17, 2014

By measuring how fast Earth conducts electricity and seismic waves, a University of Utah researcher and colleagues made a detailed picture of Mount Rainier's deep volcanic plumbing and partly molten rock ...

Ancient rocks yield clues about Earth's earliest crust

May 29, 2014

(Phys.org) —It looks like just another rock, but what Jesse Reimink holds in his hands is a four-billion-year-old chunk of an ancient protocontinent that holds clues about how the Earth's first continents ...

New insight into the temperature of deep Earth

May 22, 2014

Scientists from the Magma and Volcanoes Laboratory (CNRS) and the European Synchrotron, the ESRF, have recreated the extreme conditions 600 to 2900 km below the Earth's surface to investigate the melting ...

Recommended for you

Tropical Storm Genevieve forms in Eastern Pacific

3 hours ago

The seventh tropical depression of the Eastern Pacific Ocean formed and quickly ramped up to a tropical storm named "Genevieve." NOAA's GOES-West satellite captured an infrared image of the newborn storm ...

NASA maps Typhoon Matmo's Taiwan deluge

6 hours ago

When Typhoon Matmo crossed over the island nation of Taiwan it left tremendous amounts of rainfall in its wake. NASA used data from the TRMM satellite to calculate just how much rain fell over the nation.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

marjon
5 / 5 (1) Jan 22, 2009
How much geothermal heat escapes into the oceans and the atmosphere?
out7x
1 / 5 (2) Jan 23, 2009
nothing new here. Seafloor spreading and subduction rates are well known.
GrayMouser
not rated yet Jan 28, 2009
So, how much could we drop the global temperature if we sink all the continents?