By Chet Yarbrough
How the Earth Works
By: Professor Michael E. Wysession
Narrated by Professor Wysession
Michael Wysession (Lecturer, Professor of Earth and Plaentary Science at Washington University in St. Louis).
Professor Michael Wysession believes the origin of earth began with the “The Big Bang”. He explains how earth is in constant motion. Wysession implies “The Big Bang” reverberates today as evidence of its truth.
Most know some of the story of earth’s creation, destruction, and re-creation, but few if any know everything. Yes, the world was once one large land mass amid a body of water that covered the earth. This land mass broke apart to become seven continents. What is surprising to some is that this singular land mass called Pangaea is only one of several land masses in earth’s history.
A precursor to Pangaea is Rodinia which is believed to have formed 1.3 to 1.23 billion years ago. Another singular land mass is Pannotia assembled 600 million years ago.
Rodinia (A super-continent long before Pangaea).
There were several super-continents before Pangaea. Each iteration of a singular land mass evolved over millions of years based on moving plate combinations and re-combinations. Wysession goes on to explain the theory of Plate Tectonics.
Contrary to the myth of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” there is no space at earth’s center. The center of earth is solid iron; surrounded by a molten nickel-iron alloy. Though the center of the earth is solid, it has movement but not like that experienced in the lithosphere.
Despite the great heat at earth’s center, its center is iron that is not liquefied. The geometric pressure of Earth’s interior overcomes lead’s liquefaction at its core
Wysession explains that geologists have found several (more than seven and less than twenty-four) plates that float within a layer of earth called the lithosphere. The lithosphere consists of the crust and upper mantle of earth. This crust and upper mantle cover a solid core made of iron that is super-heated by radioactivity.
Wysession notes the core of earth moves with pressures exerted by changes in the lithosphere. Plate Tectonics affect earth’s molten nickel-iron alloy and its solid core. Earth is always in a state of motion; often imperceptible to the eye but always moving.
Wysession explains how everything on earth moves but at different speeds. Even the hardest and largest rocks move over time.
Wind can be a tornado or a breeze. Water can be a gentle rain or a tsunami. Rocks erode over centuries of wind and rain, but instantly break in avalanches. Humans may think they are standing still, but the earth constantly moves in a circle and hurdles deeper into the universe as a small part of a galaxy. Nothing on earth is at rest.
Wysession notes there are three types of faults that cause earthquakes. There is a divergent fault, a convergent fault, and a transform fault. The first is one that has two plates the move away from each other with molten rock plugging the gap. The second is when two plates collide but one rushes beneath another, or if equal in size, create a mountain at the collision point. The third is like the San Adreas Fault in California where tectonic plates rub against each other.
Wysession notes any plate movement can be disastrous and kill many people, but a transform fault shakes the earth while a convergent fault makes land disappear (subduct) or rise like a mountain.
A frightening observation by Wysession is the difference between the tectonic faults in the La-San Francisco corridor and Seattle, Washington.
Both are at risk of earthquakes, but Seattle’s plate tectonics are convergent faults while San Franciso/LA’s are transform faults.
Wysession’s observation on the difference in these faults suggests the geological change in Seattle from an earthquake will be much greater than in the LA-San Francisco area. Deaths will be catastrophic but the change in topography will be geometrically greater in Seattle.
Wysession continues with a detailed lecture on volcanic eruptions.
Anyone who lived in Washington when Mt. St. Helens erupted will confirm Wysession’s explanation of volcanic events. Living in eastern Washington when that eruption occurred makes one fully appreciate Wysession’s lecture. Over 200 miles from the eruption, a beautiful summer day turns into night. (It was like a biblical event.)
You cannot see a hand in front of your face in a few hours after St. Helen’s eruption. Cars are covered in fine flakes of ash. Everyone with any sense stays indoors because unfiltered air is unbreathable.
There seems a surprise in every Wysession’ lecture. Things we did not know or fully appreciate are pointed out. There is the incredible power in earth’s weakest force, better known as gravity, that creates and destroys the universe.
We see the deterioration of monuments of granite from centuries of weathering and the force of gravity. Rocks fall down, the face of the earth changes, deserts are formed, and jungles evolve. But, we fail to comprehend the eternal change of our world because of geological time frames, and our short lived lives.
Today we worry about destruction of forests in Brazil because of the loss of carbon dioxide eating trees. We fail to realize the largest desert in the world is Antarctica, and jungles of the rain forest do not have enough organic material in their soil to grow food to sustain life. We underestimate the critical impact of a dwindling potable water supply.
The last chapters of Wysession’s lectures deal with climate change and the impact of geological change on the history of humankind.
Like many science specialists, Wysession’s claim that a principle cause of revolutions and other world events is closely related to geological events. It is a somewhat plausible argument but it fails to recognize the political will of those who are discontented with the status quo
Wysession assesses the worlds use of energy and concludes alternative energy sources will replace carbon based pollutants. He suggests harnessing the geological sources of natural energy like the sun, wind, and ocean currents. They offer plausible replacements for the earth’s dwindling supplies of coal, oil, and gas. However, Wysession thinks in geological time and believes humans have the capacity to innovate their way out of a sixth extinction. One hopes Wysession is right, but what if he is not?
One tends to be skeptical when leaders can arbitrarily change the momentum of environmental change.
There is a great deal more in this 24 hour and 31-minute lecture series. On the one hand it is revelatory; on the other, it reinforces a belief that human life’s continuation is a chance as much as a choice.