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Chapter Twelve — The Earth Moves

A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson

Chapter 12 — The Earth Moves

  • Many of the rock formations on BOTH sides of the Atlantic Ocean are the SAME — not just very similar but the same.
  • Today we know that Earth’s surface is made up of 8 to 12 big plates and 20 or so smaller ones, and they all move in different directions and at different speeds.  Some plates are large and comparatively inactive, others small but energetic.  They bear only an incidental relationship to the landmasses that sit upon  them.  The North American plate, for instance, is much larger than the continent with which it is associated.
  • The constant motion of the Earth’s crust keeps the plates from fusing into a single immobile plate.  Assuming things continue much as at present, the Atlantic Ocean will expand until eventually it is much bigger than the Pacific Ocean.  Much of California will float off and become a kind of Madagascar of the Pacific.  Africa will push northward into Europe, squeezing the Mediterranean out  of existence and thrusting up a new chain of mountains of Himalayan majesty running from Paris to Calcutta.  Australia will colonize the islands to the north and connect by some isthmian umbilicus to Asia.
  • Look at a globe of the Earth and what you are seeing is a snapshot of the continents as they have been for just 1/10 of 1 percent of the Earth’s history.
  • Plate tectonics, when presented and elucidated, explained the surface dynamics of the Earth, and also many of its internal actions.  Earthquakes, the formation of island chains, the carbon cycle, the locations of mountains, the coming of ice ages,the origins of life itself — there was hardly a matter that wasn’t directly influenced by this remarkable new theory.  The whole earth suddenly made sense.

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