List of unsolved problems in geoscience

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This article discusses currently unsolved problems in geoscience.

The early Earth and the solar system[edit]

  • How did Earth and other planets form? Were planets formed in situ? Or are orbital changes relatively frequent? What determined the different deep layering of the solar planets?[1]
  • Was there ever a collision of the Earth with another planet Theia, giving birth to our satellite?[2] There is compelling evidence, such as measures of a shorter duration of the Earth's rotation and lunar month in the past, pointing to a Moon much closer to Earth during the early stages of the Solar System.[3]
  • What is the long-term heat balance of Earth? How did its internal temperature decay since it formed by accretion of chondrites? How abundant are radiogenic elements in the interior? Did a "faint young Sun" ever warm a "snowball Earth"? [4][5]
  • What made plate tectonics a dominant process only on Earth?.[6] How did the planet cool down before plate tectonics?[7] Was the Earth's crust formed during the early stages of its evolution or is it the result of a gradual distillation of the mantle that continues today along with crustal recycling? Is the crust still growing or does its recycling compensate for crust formation at mid-ocean ridges and other volcanic areas?

Topography and environment[edit]

  • Can the now widely available topographic data be used to derive past tectonic and climatic conditions (in the multi-million year scale)? Do we know enough about the erosion and transport processes? Does the stocasticity of meteorological and tectonic events reflect in the landscape? How much has life contributed to shape the Earth's surface?
  • Can classical geomorphological concepts such as peneplanation or retrogressive erosion be quantitatively understood? Old mountain ranges such as the Appalachian or the Urals seem to retain relief for >108 years, while subglacial fluvial valleys under Antarctica are preserved under moving ice of kilometric thickness since the Neogene. What controls the time-scale of topographic decay?[8]
  • What are the erosion and transport laws governing the evolution of the Earth’s Surface?[Willenbring et al., Geology, 2013] Rivers transport sediment particles that are at the same time the tools for erosion but also the shield protecting the bedrock. How important is this double role of sediment for the evolution of landscapes?[9][10]
  • How resilient is the ocean to chemical perturbations?
  • What caused the huge salt deposition in the Mediterranean known as the Messinian salinity crisis? Was the Mediterranean truly desiccated? What were the effects on climate and biology, and what can we learn from extreme salt giants like this? How were the normal marine conditions reestablished?[11][12][13][14]
  • There are several places where water does drain or has drained underground, but the destination is unknown. One example is "the Devil's Kettle" in Minnesota, a pothole which swallows half of the Brule River.[15]
  • What controls the dynamics of storm tracks? [16]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ McKinnon, W. B. (12 April 2012). "The Strangest Terrestrial Planet". Science. 336 (6078): 162–163. PMID 22499928. doi:10.1126/science.1220825. 
  2. ^ Canup, R. M. (17 October 2012). "Forming a Moon with an Earth-like Composition via a Giant Impact". Science. 338 (6110): 1052–1055. PMID 23076098. doi:10.1126/science.1226073. 
  3. ^ George, Williams (1991). "Upper Proterozoic Tidal Rhythmites, South Australia: Sedimentary Features, Deposition, and Implications for the Earth’s Paleorotation". Clastic Tidal Sedimentology - Memoir 16, 1991. CSPG Special Publications: 161–177. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Wired: Was the Earth a migratory planet?
  5. ^ Marty, B.; Zimmermann, L.; Pujol, M.; Burgess, R.; Philippot, P. (19 September 2013). "Nitrogen Isotopic Composition and Density of the Archean Atmosphere". Science. 342 (6154): 101–104. PMID 24051244. doi:10.1126/science.1240971. 
  6. ^ Martin, Paula; Hunen, Jeroen van; Parman, Stephen; Davidson, Jon (1 March 2008). "Why does plate tectonics occur only on Earth?" (PDF). Physics Education. 43 (2): 144–150. doi:10.1088/0031-9120/43/2/002. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  7. ^ Moore, William B.; Webb, A. Alexander G. (25 September 2013). "Heat-pipe Earth". Nature. 501 (7468): 501–505. doi:10.1038/nature12473. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  8. ^ Egholm, David L.; Knudsen, Mads F.; Sandiford, Mike (26 June 2013). "Lifespan of mountain ranges scaled by feedbacks between landsliding and erosion by rivers". Nature. 498 (7455): 475–478. PMID 23803847. doi:10.1038/nature12218. 
  9. ^ Sklar, Leonard S.; Dietrich, William E. (2001). "Sediment and rock strength controls on river incision into bedrock" (PDF). Geology. 29 (12): 1087. doi:10.1130/0091-7613(2001)029<1087:SARSCO>2.0.CO;2. Retrieved 3 March 2015.  (effect description and tools)
  10. ^ Cowie, Patience A.; Whittaker, Alexander C.; Attal, Mikaël; Roberts, Gerald; Tucker, Greg E.; Ganas, Athanassios (2008). "New constraints on sediment-flux–dependent river incision: Implications for extracting tectonic signals from river profiles" (PDF). Geology. 36 (7): 535. doi:10.1130/G24681A.1. Retrieved 3 March 2015. (field example)
  11. ^ Garcia-Castellanos, D.; Villaseñor, A. (14 December 2011). "Messinian salinity crisis regulated by competing tectonics and erosion at the Gibraltar arc". Nature. 480 (7377): 359–363. PMID 22170684. doi:10.1038/nature10651. Retrieved 3 March 2015.  Author Publications Link
  12. ^ Hsü, Kenneth J. (1987). The Mediterranean was a desert : a voyage of the Glomar Challenger (First Princeton paperback printing ed.). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691024066. 
  13. ^ Clauzon, Georges; Suc, Jean-Pierre; Gautier, François; Berger, André; Loutre, Marie-France (1996). "Alternate interpretation of the Messinian salinity crisis: Controversy resolved?". Geology. 24 (4): 363. doi:10.1130/0091-7613(1996)024<0363:AIOTMS>2.3.CO;2. 
  14. ^ Krijgsman, W.; Hilgen, F. J.; Raffi, I.; Sierro, F. J.; Wilson, D. S. (12 August 1999). "Chronology, causes and progression of the Messinian salinity crisis". Nature. 400 (6745): 652–655. doi:10.1038/23231. 
  15. ^
  16. ^, doi:10.1038/ngeo2398