Plate tectonics just a stage in Earth’s life cycle | Science News

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Plate tectonics just a stage in Earth’s life cycle

Simulation shows crust to stop shifting in 5 billion years

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7:00am, May 31, 2016
Earth tectonic diagram

TECTONIC TIMETABLE  Plate tectonics will grind to a halt in a few billion years, researchers predict. A computer simulation calculated how heat flows through a planet’s interior, including this snapshot during a period of active plate tectonics.

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Earth’s plate tectonics could be a passing phase. After simulating rock and heat flow throughout a planet’s lifetime, researchers have proposed that plate tectonics is just one stage of a planet’s life cycle.

In the simulation, the Earth’s interior was too hot and runny at first to push around the giant chunks of crust, researchers report in the June Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors. After the interior cooled for around 400 million years, tectonic plates began shifting and sinking, though the process was stop-and-go for about 2 billion years. The simulation suggests that Earth now is nearly halfway through its tectonic life cycle, says study coauthor Craig O’Neill, a planetary scientist at Macquarie University in Sydney. In around 5 billion years, plate tectonics will grind to a halt as the planet chills.

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