The expanding Earth or growing Earth hypothesis argues that the position and relative movement of continents is at least partially due to the volume of Earth increasing. Conversely, geophysical global cooling was the hypothesis that various features could be explained by Earth contracting.
Different forms of the hypothesis
Expansion with constant mass
In 1834, during the second voyage of HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin investigated stepped plains featuring raised beaches in Patagonia which indicated to him that a huge area of South America had been "uplifted to its present height by a succession of elevations which acted over the whole of this space with nearly an equal force." While his mentor Charles Lyell had suggested forces acting near the crust on smaller areas, Darwin hypothesized that uplift at this continental scale required "the gradual expansion of some central mass" [of the earth] "acting by intervals on the outer crust" with the "elevations being concentric with form of globe (or certainly nearly so)". In 1835 he extended this concept to include the Andes as part of a curved enlargement of the earth's crust due to "the action of one connected force". Not long afterwards, he moved on from this idea and proposed that as the mountains rose, the ocean floor subsided, explaining the formation of coral reefs.
In 1889 and 1909 Roberto Mantovani published a hypothesis of Earth expansion and continental drift. He assumed that a closed continent covered the entire surface of a smaller Earth. Thermal expansion led to volcanic activity, which broke the land mass into smaller continents. These continents drifted away from each other because of further expansion at the rip-zones, where oceans currently lie. Although Alfred Wegener noticed some similarities to his own hypothesis of continental drift, he did not mention Earth expansion as the cause of drift in Mantovani's hypothesis.
A compromise between Earth-expansion and Earth-contraction is the "theory of thermal cycles" by Irish physicist John Joly. He assumed that heat flow from radioactive decay inside Earth surpasses the cooling of Earth's exterior. Together with British geologist Arthur Holmes, Joly proposed a hypothesis in which Earth loses its heat by cyclic periods of expansion. In their hypothesis, expansion led to cracks and joints in Earth's interior, that could fill with magma. This was followed by a cooling phase, where the magma would freeze and become solid rock again, causing Earth to shrink.
In 1888 Ivan Osipovich Yarkovsky suggested that some sort of aether is absorbed within Earth and transformed into new chemical elements, forcing the celestial bodies to expand. This was connected with his mechanical explanation of gravitation. Also the theses of Ott Christoph Hilgenberg (1933, 1974) and Nikola Tesla (1935) were based on absorption and transformation of aether-energy into normal matter.
After initially supporting continental drift, the late Australian geologist S. Warren Carey advocated expansion from the 1950s (before the development of plate tectonics provided the generally accepted explanation of the movement of continents) to his death, demonstrating that subduction and other events could not balance the sea-floor spreading at oceanic ridges, and piling yet unresolved paradoxes that continue to plague plate tectonics. Starting in 1956, he proposed some sort of mass increase in the planets and said that a final solution to the problem is only possible in a cosmological perspective in connection with the expansion of the universe.
Bruce Heezen initially interpreted his work on the mid-Atlantic ridge as supporting S. Warren Carey's Expanding Earth Theory, but later withdrew his support, finally convinced by the data and analysis of his assistant, Marie Tharp. The remaining proponents after the 1970s, like the Australian geologist James Maxlow, are mainly inspired by Carey's ideas.
To date no scientific mechanism of action has been proposed for this addition of new mass. This is a big obstacle for acceptance of the theory by other geologists.
It is a well known fact that the earth is constantly acquiring mass through accumulation of rocks and dust from space, as are all other planetary bodies in our system. According to NASA, "Every day about 100 tons of meteoroids -- fragments of dust and gravel and sometimes even big rocks – enter the Earth's atmosphere." The majority of this debris burns up in the atmosphere and lands as dust. Such accretion, however, is only a minuscule fraction of the mass increase required by the growing earth hypothesis.
Decrease of the gravitational constant
Paul Dirac suggested in 1938 that the universal gravitational constant had decreased in the billions of years of its existence. This led German physicist Pascual Jordan to a modification of general relativity and to propose in 1964 that all planets slowly expand. This explanation is within the framework of physics considered as a viable hypothesis.
Measurements of a possible variation of the gravitational constant showed an upper limit for a relative change of 5×10−12 per year, excluding Jordan's idea.
Formation from a gas giant
According to the hypothesis of J. Marvin Herndon (2005, 2013) the Earth originated in its protoplanetary stage from a Jupiter-like gas giant. During development phases of the young Sun, which resembled to those of a T Tauri star, the dense atmosphere of the gas giant was stripped off by infrared eruptions from the sun. The remnant was a rocky planet. Due to the loss of pressure from its atmosphere would have begun a progressive decompression. Herndon regards the energy released due to the lack of compression as a primary energy source for geotectonic activity, to which some energy from radioactive decomposition processes was added. He calls the resulting changes in the course of Earth's history by the name of his theory Whole-Earth Decompression Dynamics. He considered the seafloor spreading at divergent plate boundaries as an effect of it. In his opinion mantle convection used as concept in the theory of plate tectonics is physically impossible. His theory includes the effect of solar wind (geomagnetic storms) as cause for the reversals of the Earth magnetic field. The question of mass increase is not addressed.
Main arguments against Earth expansion
The hypothesis had never developed a plausible and verifiable mechanism of action. During the 1960s, the theory of plate tectonics—initially based on the assumption that Earth's size remains constant, and relating the subduction zones to burying of lithosphere at a scale comparable to seafloor spreading—became the accepted explanation in the Earth Sciences.
The scientific community finds that significant evidence contradicts the Expanding Earth theory, and that evidence used in support of it is better explained by plate tectonics:
- Measurements with modern high-precision geodetic techniques and modeling of the measurements by the horizontal motions of independent rigid plates at the surface of a globe of free radius, were proposed as evidence that Earth is not currently increasing in size to within a measurement accuracy of 0.2 mm per year. The lead author of the study stated "Our study provides an independent confirmation that the solid Earth is not getting larger at present, within current measurement uncertainties".
- The motions of tectonic plates and subduction zones measured by a large range of geological, geodetic and geophysical techniques supports plate tectonics.
- Imaging of lithosphere fragments within the mantle supports lithosphere consumption by subduction.
- Paleomagnetic data has been used to calculate that the radius of Earth 400 million years ago was 102 ± 2.8 percent of today's radius.
- Examinations of data from the Paleozoic and Earth's moment of inertia suggest that there has been no significant change of Earth's radius in the last 620 million years.
- Category:Plate tectonics
- Timeline of the development of tectonophysics (before 1954)
- Timeline of the development of tectonophysics (after 1952)
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While working with the North Atlantic data, she noted what must have been a rift between high undersea mountains. This suggested earthquake activity, which then [was] only associated with [the] fringe theory of continental drift. Heezen infamously dismissed his assistant's idea as "girl talk." But she was right, and her thinking helped to vindicate Alfred Wegener's 1912 theory of moving continents. Yet Tharp's name isn't on any of the key papers that Heezen and others published about plate tectonics between 1959-1963, which brought this once controversial idea to the mainstream of earth sciences.
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- Herndon, J. Marvin (4 July 2013). "A New Basis of Geoscience: Whole-Earth Decompression Dynamics". NCGT Journal. Cornell University Physics. arXiv:1307.1692.
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- Media related to Expanding Earth at Wikimedia Commons
- Ott Christoph Hilgenberg:
- G. Scalera: Roberto Mantovani an Italian defender of the continental drift and planetary expansion
- Giancarlo Scalera: Variable Radius CartographyBirth and Perspectives of a New Experimental Discipline
- G. Scalera, Braun: Ott Christoph Hilgenberg in twentieth-century geophysics
- G. Scalera: Samuel Warren Carey – Commemorative memoir
- Andrew Alden: Warren Carey, Last of the Giants