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: Researchers find possible explanation of early Polynesian migration

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mantle plumes crack continents

Sep 04, 2014

Using a simulation with an unprecedentedly high resolution, Earth scientists from University of Paris VI and ETH Zurich have shown that magma columns in the Earth's interior can cause continental breakup—but ...

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 ...

Rare particles give clue to ancient Earth

May 16, 2013

(Phys.org) —Semi-precious minerals found in a bucket of sand from an island nation have cracked open a clue to the drifting movements and break-up of ancient Earth's massive continental plates.

Why do the Caribbean Islands arc?

Aug 20, 2012

(Phys.org) -- The Caribbean islands have been pushed east over the last 50 million years, driven by the movement of the Earth's viscous mantle against the more rooted South American continent, reveals new ...

Recommended for you

New tremors raise concern at Japan's Mount Ontake

3 hours ago

Increased seismic activity raised concern Tuesday about the possibility of another eruption at a Japanese volcano where 36 people were killed, forcing rescuers to suspend plans to try to recover at least ...

Japan's volcanoes: Could Fuji be next?

12 hours ago

The sudden eruption of Mount Ontake over the weekend, which is believed to have killed at least 31 people, was a reminder of Japan's vulnerability to its many active volcanoes.

NASA image: Fires in Papua, Indonesia and New Guinea

13 hours ago

According to a NASA story from 2009, "human activities in this area of the world have contributed to the growing fire emissions issue. Palm oil is increasingly grown for use as a cooking oil and biofuel, ...

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?