(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists are constantly studying tectonic plates moving below the surface of our planet. According to new research, it turned out that these plates have been on Earth for longer than we thought, in fact, about a billion years.
These giant stone slabs are located in the earth’s crust just above the mantle, and we can see the results of their displacement and destruction around us, from the formation of mountain ranges to earthquakes and volcanic activity.
The new study is based on new geochemical models of the early Earth that use the argon (Ar) element as a reference. Since argon is too heavy to leave our atmosphere, we can use it as a way to look back in time through the history of the planet.
Argon gas is released during continental growth caused by subduction (one plate presses on another), a key indicator of tectonic plate activity. As argon accumulates, it can be traced to the radioactive decay of potassium in the crust and mantle of the planet, and then to tectonic movement.
“Our model is the first to investigate the full influence of the evolution of the earth’s crust on the history of the degassing of the Earth,” the researchers write in their article.
The new model suggests that a network of tectonic plates originated more than 4.4 billion years ago, far surpassing most previous estimates.
Assessing the geological history of the Earth is a complex matter. We are not quite sure what is happening today in terms of tectonic activity, not to mention billions of years ago, but argon measurements could be the best choice for dating the movement of tectonic plates.
“Due to the specific characteristics of argon, we can determine what happened to Earth by studying argon,” says planetary scientist June Korenaga of Yale University.
This is not the only evidence that tectonic plates have existed for more than 3 billion years. Studies of magnetism in ancient rocks in Australia and South Africa are already pushing the date back several hundred million years.
Such a look into the past is an important way to find out how life was born on our planet. The transition from molten, fluid rock to hard crust is critical not only for exploring the early Earth, but also for early life forms.
As the researchers note, we still do not have a definite answer as to when this transition to tectonic plates occurred, but the assumption that they are much, much older than we thought, undoubtedly deserves further study.
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