The Future Is Bleak. Pondering Pangaea Gives Me Hope

Nicholas Harmon, the lead scientist, succumbed admirably to dad-joke temptation when he announced these findings: “There is a growing distance between North America and Europe, and it is not driven by political or philosophical differences,” he said in a press release. “It is caused by mantle convection!”

And while this convection is brewing, the tip-top of the blue planet is also shifting uneasily. In the past few years, academic geomagnetists who oversee the World Magnetic Model, which maps the Earth's magnetic field and makes possible all navigation from Google Maps to naval systems, have noticed significant mapping errors. It seems that liquid iron sloshing around in Earth's core has driven the north magnetic pole away from Canada and put it on a collision course with Siberia. The speed of this polar migration has increased from 9 miles per year to 34 miles per year during the past two decades. The north pole. Moving fast. (A question for political science: Does this mean polarization is increasing or decreasing?)

Plate tectonics is one of the most romantic theories in all of science. Because it incorporates both revelations and hard data, and because its proponents, notably the illustrious American geologist and ocean cartographer Marie Tharp, faced cruel rejection by scientists followed by warm embrace, the theory is often used to exemplify how ideas evolve. It's built on an insight from the so-called golden age of Netherlandish cartography—unforgettable—when mapmaker Abraham Ortelius of the Low Countries spotted the continents' resemblance to pottery shards. The Americas, he wrote in Thesaurus Geographicus in the late 16th century, were “torn away from Europe and Africa … by earthquakes and floods.”

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Proponents of plate tectonics faced cruel rejection by scientists followed by warm embrace.

In 1912, Alfred Wegener, a dashing German meteorologist and record-setting balloonist, concurred, and further suggested that the landmasses once composed a supercontinent, which broke into pieces that drifted apart. E unus pluribum. To close his case for what he called “continental displacement,” Wegener referred to matching fossils of plants and animals on opposite sides of the Atlantic. He also cut up maps, fit the pieces together, and named the assemblage Pangaea. His insight was savaged as the rantings of a madman. It is now considered patently true.

From Wegener's time until into the 1960s, earth scientists extended Wegener's apprehensions to describe plate tectonics, the motion of the massive components of the Earth's crust and upper mantle—its lithosphere. While deeper spheres have greater plasticity, the lithosphere responds to stress by deforming either elastically or through brittle failure. Stress deforms and breaks the planet, and produces mountains, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

Perhaps plate tectonics is such a poignant idea because it reminds us that the whole glorious and dangerous topography of the Earth is determined by stress, collisions, upwellings, and ruptures. We're right to dwell on the biosphere, because we dwell in it, and it's us. But we also owe our existence to the dynamism under our feet. In the cracking, surging lithosphere, after all, are the primordial ooze, stones, clay, and ashes we're made of—our chemical kin, to whom the planet has belonged all along.


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Source : https://www.wired.com/story/pangaea-proxima-climate-change-hope/

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