One of the interesting designs of planet Earth is the fluid nature of the crust and interior of the planet. Looking at a global map suggests that North and South America must have been connected to Europe and Africa in the past. As technology has improved, we have been able to see the connections and identify and measure the slowly moving tectonic plates and continental drift. This movement gives rise to surface features that affect human life and bring resources to supply the needs of all living things.
In 2005, geologists tracked 163 earthquakes as a 35-mile-long chasm opened in Ethiopia’s Afar Desert, where a volcanic eruption occurred. In 2018, a giant fissure 50 feet deep and 65 feet wide opened west of Nairobi, Kenya. These changes are surface expressions of movement in the mantle of magma inside the planet. The movement of tectonic plates happens very slowly, but even at a rate of less than an inch a year, scientists can measure it.
Tectonic plates and continental drift formed the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Along the edges of the various plates, material from the surface sinks back into Earth’s interior, while volcanos bring new materials to the surface, creating a colossal recycling system. Planet Earth is active, continuously producing new land with fresh minerals.
Because this process is so slow, its impact on human existence is minimal. However, people continue to build large cities along the fault lines. In California, we have the making of a colossal disaster as cities like Los Angeles straddle a geologically active region. The warnings are there, but they go unheeded.
Understanding the design of our planet with tectonic plates and continental drift should enable us to avoid geologic catastrophes and locate the mineral resources we need. Proverbs 8:22-26 finds “Wisdom” speaking about her presence at the beginning of God’s creation work. We see God’s wisdom and patience as we look at our planet’s design.
Human technology has allowed more observations of our planet than most of us realize. NASA currently operates around 30 Earth-observing missions accumulating massive amounts of data. We know about changes in sea level for the Earth’s oceans within a fraction of an inch. Hourly, we can know the areas of our planet covered with snow. We measure the amount of tree cover on Earth and minute-by-minute changes in the planet’s atmosphere. The result of all this detecting and measuring is that we know that our planet is unique and bizarre.
Earth is the only planet we have seen with an active water cycle that causes weather and allows the recycling of water resources. It is also the only known planet with active plate tectonics, recycling minerals within Earth’s crust using earthquakes and volcanoes while releasing volatiles that create and maintain our atmosphere.
We have only recently understood the Moon’s role and how important it is for life to exist on Earth. We know that it was formed in a catastrophic impact that determined its location and size. The size and distance from Earth are precisely right to cause the strength of our tides and give our planet a stable 23.4-degree tilt. Without the Moon, our Sun would cause very weak tides causing our coastlines to be much different, while the planet’s axis of rotation would wobble, destabilizing the climate.
Our planet is unique and bizarre because it has been shaped by vegetation, responsible for the atmosphere’s oxygen content of 21%. The typical astronomical atmosphere of planets is dominated by methane and carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis uses sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce the oxygen we breathe. Science is still struggling to understand the source of the massive amount of minerals we have on Earth. Meteorites have a small number of minerals, and while the Moon has a larger number, Earth’s variety of minerals is astounding.
Discover magazine featured an article discussing NASA’s studies of planet Earth. It stated that Earth observations have taught scientists one sure thing: “Our planet is unique and bizarre, with unusual properties that don’t match those of any other world we’ve seen, either in our own solar system or beyond it.”
For those of us who understand the science involved and believe in God as the creator, this is no surprise. Proverbs 8 finds “Wisdom” saying, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way …” We see that beautifully demonstrated as we look at our planet and marvel at the intelligence of the Designer who produced it.
These ocean vents send out water at temperatures that are much higher than the temperature at which water boils under normal atmospheric pressure. The sea vents are usually called “black smokers” or “white smokers” depending on the minerals that are contained in the water they release. Those minerals nourish various sea life in the area. The white smoker in the picture is in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean. It is emitting barium, calcium, and silicon as well as carbon dioxide.
The hydrothermal vents are primarily along the mid-ocean ridges which are formed by tectonic plates that are moving apart (diverging). Tectonic plates are massive sections of the Earth’s crust which move relative to each other diverging, converging, or transforming in various ways. It’s along the boundaries of those plates that most earthquakes and volcanic activities occur. As the plates diverge along the ocean ridge, they move outward and subduct (move under) other plates. This subduction forms trenches which are the lowest areas of the ocean floor.
Yesterday (April 5, 2018) there was a magnitude 5.3 earthquake off the coast of California near Los Angeles. No serious damage resulted, but scientists say there is a one-in-twenty chance that quake could be the foreshock of a larger quake. This brings up the question of why we have earthquakes. Did God do a poor job of designing the Earth?
The answer to that question is, “No.” Earthquakes result from factors that are essential for life on Earth. Earth’s crust consists of tectonic plates floating on the mantle, which is a region of molten rock. Under the continents, the Earth’s crust averages 18 miles (30 km) thick. Under the oceans, the crust is only about 3 miles (5 km) thick. The mass of the crust puts great pressure on the molten rock in the mantle causing it to be very viscous. If a crack opens in the crust, the molten rock will move upward, become more liquid as it is under less pressure. Then it may burst from the surface creating a volcano.
Volcanoes create mountains, and so does the movement of the tectonic plates. The tectonic plates moving against each other also produce earthquakes. Sometimes the plates will move against each other horizontally. We call that a slip-strike earthquake and that is what happens in the San Andreas fault in California. The quake that just occurred was a thrust quake where one side of a fault thrusts over the top of the one next to it. The Rocky Mountains and the Himalayas were pushed up by movement of the tectonic plates.
By the creation of mountains, the Earth has been continuously renewed. On the surface of the continents, erosion, and weathering break up solid rock to produce sand, clay, and ultimately topsoil. Erosion cuts down the mountains and deposits sediment in the lower elevations. Further erosion carries the sediment out into the oceans. In the deepest parts of the ocean, there are trenches. Huge amounts of sediment settle into those trenches, but they never get full. That’s because the sediment sliding into the trenches is finding its way down into the mantle.
The movement of sediment replenishes the mantle with new material which then resupplies the continents with new rock. Volcanoes erupt bringing recycled minerals and nutrients to the surface. Volcanic soils are the richest soils on Earth. This system has also brought the iron and other essential minerals into the Earth’s crust.
In 1910 an Arctic explorer by the name of Alfred Wegener coined the term continental drift. Wegener saw the same fossils in South America that he had seen in western Africa, and he proposed that the two continents had been connected at one time. Wegener’s proposal was ridiculed by the scientists of that day who saw the Earth’s crust as too solid to allow any model of that kind to work.
Over the years studies of earthquake epicenters have shown that there is movement of huge slabs of rock called tectonic plates. The rock material bends more and more steeply until the slabs eventually melt into the mantle–the molten interior of the earth. These slabs and everything on them do in fact move.
In 1952 an ocean cartographer by the name of Marie Tharp began making profiles of the Atlantic Ocean floor going from west to east. Her profiles showed a ridge down the center of the Atlantic with younger material in the center and older material on both sides. She proposed that molten material was coming up from the mantle and pushing the two slabs of ocean floor material away from each other. Where the slabs hit the edges of the continent, the material is deflected downward making trenches in the floor of the ocean.
All of these discoveries flew in the face of the accepted geological theory at the time, and Tharp was ridiculed. In time scientists came to understand that the Earth is made up of plates sliding along the surface and sliding down into the mantle when a continent is reached.
There is a message in all of this that what is considered to be scientifically impossible, sometimes turns out to be true. At the same time, a pet theory can ultimately be proven incorrect. One of the beauties of science is that eventually it cleans up its own mistakes.
Another message is that sometimes God addresses a problem long before humans know there is a problem. This whole process is one of the greatest recycling systems of all time. As nutrients and minerals get eroded off the continents, they are deposited on the ocean floor. The movement of the ocean floor ultimately returns this material to the mantle to be recycled back to the Earth’s surface.