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Earth is a finite sphere with limited resources, so it is impossible for the population to grow indefinitely. We may find more oil, gas, and coal by improved detection methods, yet nature requires more than a million years to concentrate the oil now consumed in only one year. We have created nuclear waste, yet are unsure how to dispose of it safely. What can we do about the fact that rivers today transport more agricultural and industrial waste than natural sediment? Is greenhouse heating real?
The answers to these questions can be found only if we understand Earth's dynamic systems with their many interdependent and interconnected components. There are two major pathways for the flow of energy and matter on the planet: Everything discussed in this book is related to these unifying themes. The tenth edition of Earth's Dynamic Systems introduces these systems and will help students to understand and participate in the solutions to some of these problems.
It is written for students taking their first college course in physical geology at both two- and four-year schools. One of the most difficult problems you face in beginning a course in a new subject is to identify fundamental facts and concepts and separate them from supportive material.
This problem is often expressed by the question, What do I need to learn? We have attempted to overcome this problem by presenting the material in each chapter in a manner that will help you recognize immediately the essential concepts. Outline of Major Concepts. To help you focus on the key points, we have identified them at the beginning of each chapter under the title of "Major Concepts.
Thesis Statements. A brief statement of the main idea of each section is in a colored box. Guiding Questions.
Experience has shown that the most successful students are those who read with a specific purpose-those who read to answer a question. Consequently, we have developed guiding questions that are presented in the margins next to the appropriate text material. The questions are intended to guide you in your study, stimulate your curiosity, and help focus attention on important concepts. You will find that careful study of the figures and captions is one of the most useful methods of reviewing the content of the chapter.
Key Terms. Important terms are printed in bold type.
In the Key Terms section at the end of each chapter, the terms are listed alphabetically, with the number of the page on which each appears. These terms are also defined in the glossary at the end of the book.
Review Questions. These discussion questions are intended to reinforce the main concepts and stimulate further investigation by pointing out some of the intriguing questions on which scientists are working. Illustrated Glossary. At the end of the book there is an illustrated glossary defining approximately important geologic terms. Many of the terms are accompanied by an illustration that will help in visualizing the definition and meaning of the term. This glossary, if propeily used, can be a convenient and significant aid in learning the basic vocabulary of geology.
Prentice Hall has published two unique electronic items to support your studies: These resources are designed to help you organize, prioritize, and apply what you learn from the text and in class.
The Web site hosts a variety of review materials, including multiple choice questions; interpretation of maps, images, and photographs; and critical thinking questions linked to external sources of geologic data and images. The quizzes can be automatically graded to help you gauge your progress. To help focus your efforts further, refined feedback is supplied for right and wrong answers. It also provides you with a host of topic-specific Internet addresses and search terms to help you utilize this vast new source of information.
On the CD you will find dozens of images, videos, and animations. We have also developed a series of narrated Guided Tours to illustrate how geologic systems have shaped every aspect of the planet. Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? This Tenth Edition maintains its solid coverage of the two major energy systems of Earth: Boasting a new four-part organization, this renowned book contains current content and a striking illustration package, while exposing readers to a global view of Earth and helping them look at the world as geologists do.
Part I introduces geologic systems, the materials modified by these systems, and geologic time. Part II examines the hydrologic system and its subsystems chapter by chapter. Part III explores the details of the tectonic system and includes chapters on divergent, transform, and convergent boundaries, as well as mantle plumes? Part IV looks at our planet in two ways: Read more Read less. Customers who viewed this item also viewed. Page 1 of 1 Start over Page 1 of 1. Dynamic Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology.
Earth System History. Steven M. Customers who bought this item also bought. Interpreting Earth History: Scott Ritter. Introduction to Optical Mineralogy.
From the Back Cover There are two major pathways for the flow of energy and matter on Earth: It is concerned with such diverse phenomena as volcanoes and glaciers, rivers and beaches, earthquakes and landslides, and even the history of life. Geology is a study about what happened in the past and what is happening nowa study that increases our understanding of nature and our place in it.
Yet geology does much more than satisfy intellectual curiosity. We are at a point in human history when Earth scientists have a responsibility to help solve some of societys most pressing problems. These include finding sites for safe disposal of radioactive waste and toxic chemicals, determining responsible land use for an expanding population, and providing safe, plentiful water supplies.
Geology is being called upon to guide civil engineers in planning buildings, highways, dams, harbors, and canals. Geology helps us recognize how devastation caused by natural hazards, such as landslides, earthquakes, floods, and beach erosion, can be avoided or mitigated. Another driving force in our attempt to understand Earth is the discovery of natural resources.
All Earth materials, including water, soils, minerals, fossil fuels, and building materials, are geologic and are discovered, exploited, and managed with the aid of geologic science. Geologists also offer key information about the entire global system, especially past climate change and likely causes and effects of future climate modification.
Perhaps, in the end, more fully comprehending nature is as important as the discovery of oil fields and mineral deposits. Let us begin by exploring why Earth is unique among the planetary bodies of the solar system. We will then examine some of its important characteristics: It is large enough to develop and retain an atmosphere and a hydrosphere.
Temperature ranges are moderate, such that water can exist on its surface as liquid, solid, and gas. The Solar System A map of the solar system Figure 1. This is Earths cosmic home, the place of its origin and development.
All of the planets in the solar system were created at the same time and from the same general material. The massive Sun, a star that generates heat by nuclear fusion, is the center of the system.
Because of the Suns vast gravitational influence, all of the planets orbit around it. As seen from above their north poles, the planets move counterclockwise about the Sun in slightly elliptical orbits. Moreover, all orbit in the same plane as the Suns equator, except Pluto note the different inclination of its orbit.
The diagram of the solar system in Figure 1. The orbits are distorted, and the sizes of the planetary bodies are greatly exaggerated and shown in perspective. In reality, the orbits are extremely large compared with the planets sizes. A simple analogy may help convey the size and structure of the solar system. If the Sun were the size of an orange, Earth would be roughly the size of a grain of sand orbiting 9 m 30 ft away.
Jupiter would be the size of a pea revolving 60 m ft away.
Pluto would be like a grain of silt 10 city blocks away. The nearest star would be the size of another orange more than km mi away.
Until recently, the planets and their moons were mute astronomical bodies, only small specks viewed in a telescope. But today, they are new worlds as real as our own, because we have landed on their surfaces and studied them with remotely controlled probes. One of the most fundamental facts revealed by our exploration of the solar system is that the sizes and compositions of the planets vary systematically with distance from the Sun Figure 1. The inner planets Figure 1. The large outer planetsJupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptuneare giant balls of gas, with majestic rings and dozens of small satellites composed mostly of ice.
The most distant planet, Pluto, is small and similar to these icy moons. Indeed, water ice is the most common rock in the outer solar system. The density of a planet or moon reveals these dramatic differences in composition. Density is a measure of mass per unit volume: Our best evidence tells us that Earth formed, along with the rest of the solar system, about 4. Nonetheless, only the inner planets are even vaguely like Earth.
The compositions dominated by dense solids with high melting points of the inner planets make them radically different from the outer planets, made of low-temperature ices as well as gas. Although the inner planets are roughly of the same general size, mass, and composition, they vary widely in ways that are striking and important to us as living creatures. Why is Earth so different from its neighbors? Why does it alone have abundant liquid water, a dynamic crust, an oxygen-rich atmosphere, and perhaps most unique, that intricate web of life, the biosphere?
Our solar system consists of one star, a family of nine planets almost 70 moons discovered so far , thousands of asteroids, and billions of meteoroids and comets not shown here.
The inner planets Mercury, Venus, Earth with its Moon, and Mars are composed mostly of rocky materials. The outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are much larger, are composed mostly of gas and liquid, and have no solid surfaces.
Pluto and Charon and the satellites in the outer solar system are composed mostly of water ice. Some are so cold C that they have methane ice or nitrogen ice at their surfaces. All planetary bodies in the solar system are important in the study of Earth because their chemical compositions, surface features, and other characteristics show how planets evolve.
They provide important insight into the forces that shaped our planets history. The inner planets are small and rocky, whereas the outer planets are much larger and composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. Earth From a planetary perspective, Earth is a small blue planet bathed in a film of white clouds and liquid water Figure 1.
In this remarkable view, we see Earth motionless, frozen in a moment of time, but there is much more action shown here than you might imagine. The blue water and swirling white clouds dominate the scene and underline the importance of moving water in the Earth system. Huge quantities of water are in constant motion, in the sea, in the air as invisible vapor and condensed as clouds , and on land. You can see several complete cyclonic storms spiraling over thousands of square kilometers, pumping vast amounts of water into the atmosphere.
When this water becomes precipitation on land, it flows back to the sea in great river systems that erode and sculpt the surface. Large parts of Africa and Antarctica are visible in this view. The major climactic zones of our planet are clearly delineated. For example, the great Sahara Desert is visible at the top of the scene, extending across North Africa and into adjacent Saudi Arabia.
Much of the vast tropical rain forest of central Africa is seen beneath the discontinuous cloud cover. Also, large portions of the south polar ice cap are clearly visible.
Earth is just the right distance from the Sun for its temperature to let water exist as a liquid, a solid, and a gas. Water in any of those forms is part of the hydrosphere.
If Earth were closer to the Sun, our oceans would evaporate; if it were farther from the Sun, our oceans would freeze solid. However, there is plenty of liquid water on Earth, and it is liquid water, as much as anything else, that makes Earth unique among the planets of the solar system. Heated by the Sun, water moves on Earth in great cycles. It evaporates from the huge oceans into the atmosphere, precipitates over the landscape, collects in river systems, and ultimately flows back to the oceans.
As a result, Earths surface stays young, being constantly changed by water and eroded into intricate systems of river valleys. This dynamism is in remarkable contrast to other planetary bodies, the surfaces of which are dominated by the craters of ancient meteorite impacts Figure 1.
The presence of water as a liquid on Earths surface throughout its long history also enabled life to evolve. And life, strange as it may seem, has profoundly changed the composition of Earths atmosphere. Here is the mechanism: Photosynthesis by countless plants removes large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
As part of this process, the plants exhale oxygen. In addition, many forms of marine life remove carbon dioxide from seawater to make their shells, which later fall to the seafloor and form limestone.
Earth is a delicate blue ball wrapped in filmy white clouds. The water and swirling clouds that dominate Earths surface underline the importance of water in Earths systems. The cold polar regions are buried with ice, and the warm tropics are speckled with clouds and greenery. The rocks of the high continents are strongly deformed and older than the rocks of the ocean basins.
Earth has active volcanoes, a dynamic interior, and no large impact craters are visible on its surface. Diameter 12, km Density 5. Venus is often considered Earths twin because of its similar size and density, but the two planets are not identical. This image of Venus shows its cloudy atmosphere partially stripped away to reveal a radar map of the solid surface made by an orbiting satellite. Venus has high plateaus, folded mountain belts, many volcanoes, and relatively smooth volcanic plains, but it has no water and few meteorite impact craters.
Diameter 12, km. Density 5. Mars Mars is much smaller than Earth and Venus but has many fascinating geologic featuresevidence that its surface has been dynamic in the past. Three huge extinct volcanoes, one more than 28 km high, can be seen in the left part of this image. An enormous canyon extends across the entire hemispherea distance roughly equal to that from New York to San Francisco. These features reveal that todays windy, desert Martian surface has been dynamic in the past, but ancient meteorite impact craters visible in the upper right part of the image have not been completely obliterated by younger events.
Diameter km Density 3. Mercury Mercury is similar to the Moon, with a surface dominated by ancient impact craters and younger smooth plains presumably made from floods of lava. Like the Moon, Mercury lacks an atmosphere and hydrosphere. Diameter km Density 5. The Moon has two contrasting provinces: We know from rock samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts that the dark smooth plains are ancient floods of lava that filled many large meteorite impact craters and spread out over the surrounding area.
The volcanic activity thus occurred after the formation of the heavily cratered terrain, but was not sufficient to obliterate all of the impact craters. Today the Moon is a geologically quiet body with no atmosphere or liquid water. The surfaces of the inner planets, shown at the same scale, provide insight into planetary dynamics. Another characteristic of Earth is that it is dynamic. Its interior and surface continually change as a result of its internal heat.
In marked contrast, many other planetary bodies have changed little since they formed because they are no longer hot inside. Most of Earths heat comes from natural radioactivity. The breakdown of three elementspotassium, uranium, and thoriumis the principal source of this heat.
Once generated, this heat flows to the surface and is lost to space. Another source of heat has been inherited from the formation of the planets. Heat was generated in each of the planets by the infall of countless meteorites to form a larger and larger planet. This accretionary heat may have melted the early planets, including Earth. Larger planets have more internal heat and retain it longer than smaller planets.
Earths internal heat creates slow movements within the planet. Its rigid outer layer the lithosphere breaks into huge fragments, or plates, that move. Over billions of years, these moving plates have created ocean basins and continents. The heat-driven internal movement also has deformed Earths solid outer layers, creating earthquakes, mountain belts, and volcanic activity.
Thus, Earth has always been a dynamic planet, continuously changing as a result of its internal heat and the circulation of its surface water. Look again at the view of Earth from space Figure 1. Of particular interest in this view is the rift system of East Africa. The continent is slowly being ripped apart along this extensive fracture system. Where this great rift separates the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, it has filled with water, forming the Red Sea.
The rift extends from there southward across most of the continent it is mostly obscured by clouds in the equatorial region. Some animals that evolved in the East African rift valleys spread from there and learned to live in all of the varied landscapes of the planet. This was their first home, but they have since walked on the Moon. The Other Inner Planets In stark contrast to the dynamic Earth, some of the other inner planets are completely inactive and unchanging.
For example, the Moon and Mercury Figure 1. This was a period when planetary bodies swept up what remained of the cosmic debris that formed the Sun and its planets. As the debris struck each body, impact craters formed.
The Moon and Mercury are so small that they were unable to generate and retain enough internal heat to sustain prolonged geologic activity. They rapidly cooled and lost the ability to make volcanoes. Their smooth lava plains are ancient by comparison with those on Earth. Consequently, their surfaces have changed little in billions of years.
They retain many meteorite impact craters formed during the birth of the solar system. Neither planet has a hydrosphere or an atmosphere to modify them. Thus, these small planets remain as fossils of the early stages in planetary development. The footprints left on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts will remain fresh and unaltered for millions of years. Mars is larger and has more internal heat and a thin atmosphere Figure 1. Its originally cratered surface has been modified by volcanic eruptions, huge rifts, and erosion by wind and, in its distant past, running water.
Today, Mars is too cold and the atmospheric pressure too low for water to exist as a liquid. Large polar ice caps mark both poles. In many ways, Mars is a frozen wasteland with a nearly immobile crust. Consequently, its ancient impact craters were never completely obliterated.
Venus is larger still and has more internal energy, which moves the crust and continually reshapes its surfaces Figure 1. Venus is only slightly smaller than Earth and closer to the Sun. A thick carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere holds in the solar energy that reaches the surface and makes the temperature rise high enough to melt lead around C. The atmospheric pressure is 90 times that on Earth.
Unlike the smaller planets, Venus has no heavily cratered areas. Its ancient impact. Its surface is apparently young. Because of its large size, it has cooled quite slowly, so that volcanoes may even be active today. On the other hand, no evidence of water has been found on Venus; it has no oceans, no rivers, no ice caps, and only a very little water vapor.
Only Earth has large amounts of liquid water that have influenced its development throughout history. This, then, is Planet Earth in its cosmic settingonly a pale blue dot in space, part of a family of planets and moons that revolve about the Sun.
It is a minor planet bound to an ordinary star in the outskirts of one galaxy among billions. Yet, from a human perspective, it is a vast and complex system that has evolved over billions of years, a home we are just beginning to understand.
Learning about Earth and the forces that change itthe intellectual journey upon which you are about to embarkis a journey we hope you will never forget. Our study of the diverse compositions and conditions of the planets should remind us of the delicate balance that allows us to exist at all. Are we intelligent enough to understand how our world functions as a planet and to live wisely within those limits?
Their dynamics are especially spectacular when seen from space. Views of Earth from space like the one in Figure 1.
The atmosphere is the thin, gaseous envelope that surrounds Earth. The hydrosphere, the planets discontinuous water layer, is seen in the vast oceans. Even parts of the biospherethe organic realm, which includes all of Earths living thingscan be seen from space, such as the dark green tropical forest of equatorial Africa.
The lithospherethe outer, solid part of Earthis visible in continents and islands. One of the unique features of Earth is that each of the planets major realms is in constant motion and continual change. The atmosphere and the hydrosphere move in dramatic and obvious ways. Movement, growth, and change in the biosphere can be readily appreciatedpeople are part of it.
But Earths seemingly immobile lithosphere is also in motion, and it has been so throughout most of the planets history.
The Atmosphere Perhaps Earths most conspicuous features, as seen from space, are the atmosphere and its brilliant white swirling clouds Figure 1. Although this envelope of gas forms an insignificantly small fraction of the planets mass less than 0. It plays a part in the evolution of most features of the landscape and is essential for life.
On the scale of the illustration in Figure 1. The atmospheres circulation patterns are clearly seen in Figure 1. At first glance, the patterns may appear confusing, but upon close examination we find that they are well organized. If we ignore the details of local weather systems, the global atmospheric circulation becomes apparent. Solar heat, the driving force of atmospheric circulation, is greatest in the equatorial regions.
The heat causes water in the oceans to evaporate, and the heat makes the moist air less dense, causing it to rise. The warm, humid air forms an equatorial belt of spotty clouds, bordered on the north and south by zones that are cloud-free, where air descends.
To the north and south, cyclonic storm systems develop where warm air from low latitudes confronts cold air around the poles. Our atmosphere is unique in the solar system. The earliest atmosphere was much different. It was essentially oxygen-free and consisted largely of carbon dioxide and water vapor. The present carbon dioxide-poor atmosphere developed as soon as limestone began to form in the oceans, tying up the carbon dioxide. Oxygen was added to the atmosphere later, when plants evolved.
As a result of photosynthesis, plants extracted carbon dioxide from the primitive atmosphere and expelled oxygen into it. Thus, the oxygen in the atmosphere is and was produced by life. The Hydrosphere The hydrosphere is the total mass of water on the surface of our planet.
Thus, it is for good reason that Earth has been called the water planet. It has been estimated that if all the irregularities of Earths surface were smoothed out to form a perfect sphere, a global ocean would cover Earth to a depth of 2.
Again, it is this great mass of water that makes Earth unique. Water permitted life to evolve and flourish; every inhabitant on Earth is directly or indirectly controlled by it. All of Earths weather patterns, climate, rainfall, and even the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are influenced by the water in the oceans.
The hydrosphere is in constant motion; water evaporates from the oceans and moves through the atmosphere, precipitating as rain and snow, and returning to the sea in rivers, glaciers, and groundwater. As water moves over Earths surface, it erodes and transports weathered rock material and deposits it. These actions constantly modify Earths landscape. Many of Earths distinctive surface features are formed by action of the hydrosphere.
How are Earths atmosphere and hydrosphere different from those on other planets? The Biosphere The biosphere is the part of Earth where life exists.
It includes the forests, grasslands, and familiar animals of the land, together with the numerous creatures that inhabit the sea and atmosphere. Microorganisms such as bacteria are too small to be seen, but they are probably the most common form of life in the biosphere. As a terrestrial covering, the biosphere is discontinuous and irregular; it is an interwoven web of life existing within and reacting with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere. It consists of more than 1. Each species lives within its own limited environmental setting Figure 1.
Almost the entire biosphere exists in a narrow zone extending from the depth to which sunlight penetrates the oceans about m to the snow line in the tropical and subtropical mountain ranges about m above sea level.
At the scale of the photograph in Figure 1. Certainly one of the most interesting questions about the biosphere concerns the number and variety of organisms that compose it. Surprisingly, the truth is that no one knows the answer. Despite more than years of systematic research, estimates of the total number of plant and animal species vary from 3 million to more than 30 million. Of this number, only 1. The diversity is stranger than you may think.
Insects account for more than one-half of all known species, whereas there are only species of mammals, or about 0. Observation shows that there are more species of small animals than of large ones.
The smallest living creaturesthose invisible to the unaided eye, such as protozoa, bacteria, and virusescontribute greatly to the variety of species. The biosphere is a truly remarkable part of Earths systems. The main factors controlling the distribution of life on our planet are temperature, pressure, and chemistry of the local environment.
However, the range of What is the biosphere? How does it affect Earth dynamics? Although the biosphere is small compared with Earths other major layers atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere , it has been a major geologic force. Essentially all of the present atmosphere has been produced by the chemical activity of the biosphere. The composition of the oceans is similarly affected by living things; many marine organisms extract calcium carbonate from seawater to make their shells and hard parts.
When the organisms die, their shells settle to the seafloor and accumulate as beds of limestone. In addition, the biosphere formed all of Earths coal, oil, and natural gas. A This map of the biosphere was produced from data derived from satellite sensors.
Land vegetation increases from tan to yellow to green to black. Escalating concentrations of ocean phytoplankton are shown by colors ranging from purple to red. Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that live in the surface layer of the ocean and form the foundation of the marine food chain. Note the particularly high concentrations of phytoplankton in polar waters red and yellow and the very low concentrations purple and blue in the mid-latitudes.
Upper limit of land animals Upper limit of most plants Upper limit of human habitation Upper limit of agriculture. Most of biosphere occurs within this zone Sea level Bacteria down to several thousand meters Scattered bottom-living animals at the greatest depths reached by underwater cameras.
B Most of the biosphere exists within a very thin zone from m below sea level to about m above sea level. These global views of Earths biosphere emphasize that life is widespread and has become a powerful geologic force.
A historical record of the biosphere is preserved, sometimes in remarkable detail, by fossils that occur in rocks. From outside in, the compositional layers are 1 crust, 2 mantle, and 3 core. Layers based on physical properties are 1 lithosphere, 2 asthenosphere, 3 mesosphere, 4 outer core, and 5 inner core. Studies of earthquake waves, meteorites that fall to Earth, magnetic fields, and other physical properties show that Earths interior consists of a series of shells of different compositions and mechanical properties.
Earth is called a differentiated planet because of this separation into layers. How did Earth become differentiated? But the overall density of Earth is about 5. Clearly, Earth consists of internal layers of increasing density toward the center. The internal layers were produced as different materials rose or sank so that the least-dense materials were at the surface and the most dense were in the center of the planet.
Thus, gravity is the motive force behind Earths differentiated structure. In the discussion below we take you on a brief tour to the very center of Earth, which lies at a depth of about km.
Chemical properties define one set of layers, and mechanical behavior defines a different set. Figure 1. An understanding of both types of layers is vital. Internal Structure Based on Chemical Composition Geologists use the term crust for the outermost compositional layer Figure 1. The base of the crust heralds a definite change in the proportions of the various elements that compose the rock but not a strong change in its mechanical behavior or physical properties.
Moreover, the crust of the continents is distinctly different from the crust beneath the ocean basins Figure 1. Continental crust is much thicker as much as 75 km , is composed of less-dense granitic rock about 2. By contrast, the oceanic crust is only about 8 km thick, is composed of denser volcanic rock called basalt about 3.
These differences between the continental and oceanic crusts, as you shall see, are fundamental to understanding Earth. The next major compositional layer of Earth, the mantle, surrounds or covers the core Figure 1. The mantle is composed of silicate rocks compounds of silicon and oxygen that also contain abundant iron and magnesium.
Fragments of the mantle have been brought to the surface by volcanic eruptions. Because of the pressure of overlying rocks, the mantles density increases with depth from about 3. Earths core is a central mass about km in diameter. Its density increases with depth but averages about Chapter 1 Crust 8 to 75 km Lithosphere 0 to km Asthenosphere to km Mesosphere. The internal structure of Earth consists of layers of different composition and layers of different physical properties. The left side shows the layering based on chemical composition.
These consist of a crust, mantle, and core. The right side shows the layering based on physical properties such as rigidity, plasticity, and whether it is solid or liquid. Note that the two divisions, chemical and physical, do not coincide except at the core mantle boundary. Crust Silicates. Indirect evidence indicates that the core is mostly metallic iron, making it distinctly different from the silicate material of the mantle.
Internal Structure Based on Physical Properties The mechanical or physical properties of a material tell us how it responds to force, how weak or strong it is, and whether it is a liquid or a solid. The solid, strong, and rigid outer layer of a planet is the lithosphere rock sphere. The lithosphere includes the crust and the uppermost part of the mantle Figure 1. Earths lithosphere varies greatly in thickness, from as little as 10 km in some oceanic areas to as much as km in some continental areas.
Within the upper mantle, there is a major zone where temperature and pressure are just right so that part of the material melts, or nearly melts. Under these conditions, rocks lose much of their strength and become soft and plastic and flow slowly. This zone of easily deformed mantle is known as the asthenosphere weak sphere. The boundary between the asthenosphere and the overlying lithosphere is mechanically distinct but does not correspond to a fundamental change in chemical composition.
The boundary is simply a major change in the rocks mechanical properties. The rock below the asthenosphere is stronger and more rigid than in the asthenosphere. It is so because the high pressure at this depth offsets the effect of high temperature, forcing the rock to be stronger than the overlying asthenosphere. The region between the asthenosphere and the core is the mesosphere middle sphere. Earths core marks a change in both chemical composition and mechanical properties.
On the basis of mechanical behavior alone, the core has two distinct parts: The outer core has a thickness of about km compared with the much smaller inner core, with a radius of only about km. The core is extremely hot, and heat loss from the core and the rotation of Earth probably cause the liquid outer core to flow.
This circulation generates Earths magnetic field. The asthenosphere is hot, close to its melting point, and is capable of plastic flow.
The lithosphere above it is cooler and rigid. It includes the uppermost part of the mantle and two types of crust: Continental crust is less dense, thicker, older, and more deformed than oceanic crust. If Earth had neither an atmosphere nor a hydrosphere, two principal regions would stand as its dominant features: The ocean basins, which occupy about two-thirds of Earths surface, have a remarkable topography, most of which originated from extensive volcanic activity and Earth movements that continue today.
The continents rise above the ocean basins as large platforms. The ocean waters more than fill the ocean basins and rise high enough to flood a large part of the continents. The present shoreline, so important to us geographically and so carefully mapped, has no simple relation to the structural boundary between continents and ocean basins. In our daily lives, the position of the ocean shoreline is very important. But from a geologic viewpoint, the elevation of the continents with respect to the ocean floor is much more significant than the position of the shore.
The difference in elevation of continents and ocean basins reflects their fundamental difference in composition and density. Continental granitic rocks are less dense about 2. That is, a given volume of continental rock weighs less than the same volume of oceanic rock.
This difference causes the continental crust to be more buoyant to rise higherthan the denser oceanic crust in much the same way that ice cubes float in a glass of water because ice is less dense than water.
Moreover, the rocks of the continental crust are older some as old as 4. The elevation and area of the continents and ocean basins now have been mapped with precision. These data can be summarized in various forms. Only a relatively small percentage of Earths surface rises significantly above the average elevation of the continents or drops below the average depth.
Only a small percentage of Earths surface rises above the average elevation of the continents or drops below the average elevation of the ocean floor. If the continents did not rise quite so high above the ocean floor, the entire surface of Earth would be covered with water.
What are the most significant features of continental shields? The extensive flat region of a continent, in which complexly deformed ancient crystalline rocks are exposed, is known as a shield Figure 1. All of the rocks in the shield formed long agomost more than 1 billion years ago.
Moreover, these regions have been relatively undisturbed for more than a halfbillion years except for broad, gentle warping. The rocks of the shields are highly deformed igneous and metamorphic rock; they are also called the basement complex. Without some firsthand knowledge of a shield, visualizing the nature and significance of this important part of the continental crust is difficult.
It will help you to comprehend the extent, the complexity, and some of the typical features of shields. First, a shield is a regional surface of low relief that generally has an elevation within a few hundred meters of sea level. Relief is the elevation difference between the low and the high spots.
Resistant rocks may rise 50 to m above their surroundings. A second characteristic of shields is their complex internal structure and complex arrangements of rock types. Many rock bodies in a shield once were molten, and others have been compressed and extensively deformed while still solid. Much of the rock in shields was formed several kilometers below the surface. They are now exposed only because the shields have been subjected to extensive uplift and erosion.
Stable Platforms. When the basement complex is covered with a veneer of sedimentary rocks, a stable platform is created. The layered sedimentary rocks are nearly horizontal and commonly etched by dendritic treelike river patterns Figure 1.
These broad areas have been relatively stable throughout the last million or million years; that is, they have not been uplifted a great distance above sea level or submerged far below ithence the term stable platform. In North America, the stable platform lies between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains and extends northward to the Lake Superior region and into western Canada.
Throughout most of this area, the sedimentary rocks are nearly horizontal, but locally they have been warped into broad domes and basins Figure 1. Sometimes it is useful to group the shield and stable platform together in what is called a craton. Folded Mountains. Some of the most impressive features of the continents are the young folded mountain belts that typically occur along their margins. Most people think of a mountain as simply a high, rugged landform, standing in contrast to flat plains and lowlands.
Mountains, however, are much more than high country. To a geologist, the term mountain belt means a long, linear zone in Earths crust where the rocks have been intensely deformed by horizontal stress during the slow. The continental crust rises above the ocean basins and forms continents. They have as their major structural features shields, stable platforms, and folded mountain belts.
The continents are formed mostly of granitic rock. The oceanic crust forms the ocean floor.