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The Expanding Earth

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The prevailing geological model of the early 19th century was characterized by an almost static earth, maybe slowly cooling and shrinking, until the molten interior would eventually be completely frozen and solidified. However at the beginning of the 20th century collected evidence suggested that earth´s crust was quite more mobile – both in horizontal and vertical directions – than previously thought.

In 1956 Laszlo Egyed, professor at  the Geophysical Institute of the Eötvös-University in Budapest, based on variations of the sea level in the geological past, proposed that earth was slowly and constantly growing! According to his reconstruction todays continents are the remains of the ancient crust of a smaller planet, surrounded by younger rocks generated along fractures at the Mid-Ocean-Ridges. He explained the supposed increasing volume of our planet by modifications of mineral phases in the earth´s interior, as minerals are known to change the crystal-structure in relation to changing heat and pressure. An even stranger explanation was suggested by German physicist Pascual Jordan in 1966 – the expanding earth was imputable to the general dilatation of the space-time continuum.

Most work on the Expanding Earth/Growing Earth hypothesis was done by the German engineer Klaus Vogel, famous for his elaborate globes with the continents fitting on a 20% smaller earth.
Influenced by Vogel´s globes, the Australian geologist Samuel Warren Carey (1912-2002) will become one of the most eminent supporters of the Expanding Earth Hypothesis.

Fig.1. S. Warren Carey  and Klaus Vogel discussing an Expanding Earth globe (image from CAREY 1988, it is believed that the use of low-resolution images qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law).

The complex geology of New Guinea convinced Carey that complex movements of earth’s crust were necessary to explain the structural geology of mountains. He developed a model with horizontal movements along the Mid Ocean Ridges and transform faults, but stated that “Subduction is a mythos!” He then explained vertical movements as superficial features of very complicated moving cone structures, reaching down to the earth´s core.

However the Expanding Earth hypothesis failed and fails to provide a convincing mechanism to explain the supposed increase of earth´s mass or volume over time. Also simple measurements of the circumference of earth with satellites, as even Carey admitted, could disprove or prove an increase in the radius of earth.  Modern satellite measurements are accurate enough to show the movements of earth´s plates as proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912, however failed to find any real evidence for an expanding earth, except in the internet…

Bibliography:

CAREY, S.W: (1988): Theories of the Earth and Universe: a History of Dogma in the Earth Sciences. Stanford: 419
OLDROYD, D.R. (2007): Die Biography der Erde. zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Geologie. Zweitausendeins-Verlag: 518

David Bressan About the Author: Freelance geologist dealing with quaternary outcrops interested in the history and the development of geological concepts through time. Follow on Twitter @David_Bressan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. SAULT18 11:36 am 05/12/2014

    The failed “Expanding Earth Hypothesis” has a lot of company with many other crazy ideas that are detached from reality. The Flat Earth Hypothesis, Apollo Moon Landing Hoax, Climate Change Denial, The Anti-Vaccination Movement and plenty of other unscientific claims that should be ignored are hanging on by fooling an unsuspecting public with unscientific claims. Bill Nye can only do so much to dispel them all…

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  2. 2. SJCrum 4:58 pm 05/12/2014

    As far as earth expanding at all, it isn’t, and any indications that it might be are another science.
    One of these indications might be the shrinking plates that exist in ocean bottoms. The real science for that shrinkage is that in the year 2500 B.C., earth was hit by an enormous blast of heat that not only killed all of the dinosaurs, but it boiled all of the water out of oceans on earth, and then liquefied all of the ocean bottoms. After that heat event, earth was in an Ice Age type of cold that then caused the liquid magma ocean bottoms to solidify. In the end, all of that surface shell material is still shrinking. And, as the squarish plates shrink, magma escapes from below and fills the cracks.
    For information also, all earth quakes occur because of the same situation, and where plate edges drop down and then cause the shock waves.
    So, the shrinkage isn’t a result of a larger planet.

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  3. 3. milnik 7:22 am 05/13/2014

    Each planet has its own way one species. Arises and disappears in the long-time existence suffers many changes in size, shape, behavior by the laws of nature, and even has its own memory that is registered somewhere in the universe, just as every man owns it. Some are aware of it, and some are not. By all indicators, the country needs now that can reduce, as sea level rises, the atmosphere becomes more intense, there is a growing number of earthquakes, slowly heats the surface, and her growing size of the magnetic field and electric field due to deformation of atoms to collect masses. By this my theory, Mars is expanding, because with its surface water disappeared and the atmosphere and are absorbed into the interior of the planet. Then the magnetic field decreases. For all of this can be determined by time and change, only to be completely different to observe the solar system and the laws that govern it.

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  4. 4. earthexpansion 7:29 pm 05/14/2014

    Until Plate Tectonics can come up with a mechanism how convection cells can change direction at the drop of a homocentric hat to break up the initial supercontinental Pangaean crustal pancake, drive all the fragments round the other side of the Earth, then break it up again when they are reassembled, and then *keep changing* to break successive assemblies up thereafter – and all because Mr Wilson said so on account of not being able to properly interpret a fault with different fossils in the rocks on either side of it, then it has no standing at all to accuse Earth expansion of “no mechanism” and we are back at square 1 when it comes to understanding the fundamentals of geology.

    Look at it this way :-
    The Atlantic Ocean closes? [tick]
    The Indian Ocean closes? [tick]
    The Southern Ocean closes? [tick]
    The Pacific Ocean closes. [doubletick]

    Anyone with half an eye can see this too. And if the eye is linked to the brain then it should be noted that the oldest part of the ocean floor in the Pacific is the same age as the Pacific continental margins. Therefore the Pangaean Earth was smaller by the extents of the ocean floors. Moreover, the spreading ridges are longer than their initial breakthrough extents, which can only happen if spreading is in the direction of the ridge, i.e., moves up, .. i.e., there is no subduction. Furthermoreover (while the brain is still in gear, and though I don’t see much comment on the point anywhere) expansion is the only rationale that explains why there is a stratigraphic sequence sitting on continental crust in the first place. In other words, why there is such a thing as the study of geo-logy at all. Moreover still, mountains are erosional features, not pushed up by ‘plate collision’ ;; the folds in them, nor the accompanying metamorphism do not happen in the free-air space between the ocean floors and the mountain tops.

    Earth expansion is an observation, not a theory; observation (Earth expansion) and theory (Plate Tectonics) are not on the same scientific page.

    No mechanism? Of course there’s a mechanism. We just don’t happen to know what it is yet any more than we know a mechanism (not a description) for gravity, but that’s no excuse for not looking for one. I don’t know what Scientific American’s “risk-free” issue advertised as I sign on to make this comment and mentioning “A Crisis in Physics” is about (the science or the funding), but it seems to me that the recent discovery of the Higg’s Boson-*like* particle on the stroke of a funding midnight is mirroring something that the Earth with its colossal extent of mantle breakthrough is saying in much more forceful and spectacular terms – and being wilfully ignored.
    http://www.earthexpansion.blogspot.com.au/

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  5. 5. Tremilberg 3:57 am 05/28/2014

    I have always wondered why geometric evidence isn´t acknowledged as proof! If three pieces of a spherical puzzle once were attached, the angles at a triple junction HAS to add up to 360 degrees. On the earth, the angles are consistently adding up to less than 360 degrees, and the further back in time, the less is the sum of the angles. This could only happen if the earth was growing. It is not possible to put any two pieces of previously joined continents together without having to explain away big gaps that appear.

    As to the mechanism for this growth, I suspect that the answer will be linked to the answer to the question: “What is gravity?” I.e. The nature of gravity may be to pull/push objects together, and the side effect of that work, is that objects do grow.

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