Expanding Earth?

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Scientific Paper
Title Expanding Earth?
Author(s) Bill Mundy
Keywords {{{keywords}}}
Published 1988
Journal None


Plate tectonics has been a very successful model in describing and synthesizing information about the kinematics of the crust of the earth (Lithosphere 1983, p. 1; Loper 1985). Briefly, it suggests that the surface of the earth is composed of a few plates which fit together like pieces of a spherical puzzle (Tarbuck and Lutgens 1984, pp. 400-406). The edges or boundaries of these plates are typically characterized by volcanoes and epicenters of earthquakes. Some of the boundaries, such as the mid-Atlantic ridge, are identified as spreading ridges, where birth is given to new crustal material; other boundaries, such as the trench of the west coast of South America, are identified as subduction zones where old crust is being pulled or pushed back into the interior of the earth; still other boundaries, like the San Andreas fault, are slip-strike faults where one plate slides past another; and others, such as the Himalayas, are interpreted to be places where plates are colliding. As suggested by the processes occurring at the boundaries, the plates are moving with respect to each other. Since the plate-tectonic model assumes a constant-sized earth (Tarbuck and Lutgens 1984, p. 403), the sea-floor spreading that occurs at the ridges has to be compensated for by subduction and collisional compression. However, a small but persistent group of earth scientists argue that the spreading sea floors and wandering continents are best explained in terms of an expanding earth (Carey 1976, Carey 1983a, Carey 1988, Crawford 1986, Glikson 1980, King 1983, Owen 1983a, Steiner 1977). In its most radical form this model assumes that sea-floor spreading is entirely compensated by the increasing area of an expanding earth so that no subduction occurs (Carey 1976, p. 14; Carey 1988, ch. 13; Crawford 1986). Some variations on this incorporate modest subduction and collision along with the expansion of the earth (Owen 1983b). In spite of the fact that a number of times the expanding earth is said to have been discredited (Kerr 1987; Smith 1976, 1977, 1978; Wood 1979) the expanding earth remains as an alternative model to plate tectonics.

S. Warren Carey, who can be considered the dean of the expanding-earth model, feels that all the apparent plate motion is due to the crust of the earth accommodating itself to an earth that is increasing in size. In his 1976 book, The Expanding Earth (Heirtzler 1977, Irving 1978, Karig 1978, Mundy 1985), Carey proposed three experimental tests to verify if the earth is expanding (Carey 1976, p. 443). Variations on two of these suggestions have now been done: a) satellite laser ranging (SLR) and b) very long base interferometry (VLBI) (Anderson and Cazenave 1986, Stein 1987). Doppler satellite measurement techniques are also being developed.