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History of Geology

History of Geology

What rocks tell and how we came to understand it

The Expanding Earth

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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

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

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