New Research Reveals When Plate Tectonics Might Stop

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There are several things that make Earth unique in the solar system. Plate tectonics is among those features, but it won’t be a characteristic of our planet forever. Researchers estimate that, based on changes over the last 3 billion years, tectonics will cease to happen roughly 1.45 billion years in the future.

Plate tectonics is the slow but continuous movement of large segments of the Earth’s crust, which are known as plates. Some plates sink beneath the others, whereas some move apart and some collide. These movements are responsible for the creation of mountain chains, can cause disastrous earthquakes, and can form volcanos.

It is unclear how tectonics started, but the potential for it to stop has been suspected for a while. In this latest work, published in the journal Gondwana Research, Cheng Qiuming from the China University of Geosciences tried to calculate when any major movements in the crust were likely to end.

They constructed a model of how the mantle activities have changed in the past and tried to extrapolate what that tells us about the future. The study shows both the intensity and repetition of major activity below the crust in the mantle over the past few billion years. The researcher has interpreted this as a general trend of mantle cooling. In 1.45 billion years, the temperature of the mantle won’t be high enough anymore for it to flow. Without this internal motion, activities on the surface such as plate tectonics will cease.

Plate tectonics is the mechanism by which the interior of our planet blows off heat, hence why the mantle is slowly cooling over time. Without plate tectonics, it won’t just be a goodbye to volcanos and earthquakes, which we could certainly do without. It will also be a goodbye to mountains. The inexorable movement of plate against plate as it pushes the crust literally to higher and higher peaks. Without it, erosion will take over and over the course of a few million years, even the tallest chain will be nothing but rolling hills.

But there will definitely somebody happy with this research. The weird person who started a change.org petition to stop plate tectonics.

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