Tectonics map of the Earth
Original Published Date: 
Monday, September 16, 2019

Full article issued by Monash University.

ARC-supported researchers have modelled the emergence of plate tectonics on Earth, which by transporting oxygen and water from the planet’s interior to the atmosphere and forming mountain highs and deep oceans, is central to the question of whether life is unique to Earth.

The geological record suggests that plate tectonics got started about three to two-and-a-half billion years ago, but the record remains too sparse to explain how and why this occurred, according to Dr Fabio Capitanio, an ARC Future Fellow from the Monash School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment. The research team, which also included Australian Laureate Professor Peter Cawood, reproduced the early evolution of the Earth with its hotter interiors beneath a rigid cold surface, using numerical models running on the Australian Government supported National Computational Infrastructure (NCI). 

Dr Capitanio says that until now, the geological record could not be reconciled with one of the two known tectonics modes. "We have found a new one, which reconciles the evolution of our planet with its rock record." 

The research also suggests that other planets might operate in the same tectonic regime, where surface deformation and topography are documented, but there are no plate tectonics, and therefore there is no life present. The research has been published in Geology, and in Earth and Planetary Science Letters

Photo credit: 

Tectonic plates are thought to be central to the question of whether life is unique to Earth. Credit: Wikimedia (Public Domain).