Episode 37: Expanding Earth

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In this episode, Dylan, Brent, and Forrest discuss the theory that the earth is expanding. They cover the early 20th century origins of the theory and it's bid to replace the contracting earth theory. After that, they discuss the role Marie Tharp's cartography played in overturning the expanding earth in favor of plate tectonics. Lastly, they discuss the main booster of expanding eartherism today, comic book artist Neal Adams and his disgust over subduction.

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First, it gets smaller

From the 1860s to the early 20th century, the dominant geological view was that the Earth was contracting. As the molten center of the Earth cooled, the molten portion got denser, and thus the Earth got smaller. It was thought to provide an explanation for why there are mountains. Think about a grape drying into a raisin. As it contracts, ridges appear. The Earth is exactly the same way.

It was so ingrained that mobilism, the view that would turn out to be true, was considered “barely scientific”. Instead geologists were fixists. Further, continental drift was considered marginal and barely discussed. Geologists at the time didn’t believe continents moved side to side, but rather up and down only.

It was Alfred Wegener, a German meteorologist who came up with the theory of plate tectonics well before it was accepted by the scientific community. In fact Wegener was looked down upon because he wasn’t a geologist but a meteorologist. Wegener pulled from several sources of data to support his hypothesis. This is from the Essentials of Geology textbook, “They were 1. The correlation of coastlines. 2. The distribution of late Paleozoic glaciers; 3. The distribution of late Paleozoic equatorial climatic belts; 4, the distribution of fossil species; and 5. The match-up of distinctive rock assemblages that are now on opposite sides of the ocean were adjacent on Pangea.

Oh great here comes evidence

The problem was that there wasn’t a lot of empirical evidence for geologists to rely on. Thus all their theories were basically speculation.This began to change in the early 20th century, and it didn’t look good for a Contracting earth.

First, radioactivity was discovered, as well as that radioactive decay generated heat inside the planet. This suggested that the Earth was cooling at a much slower rate than previously thought. Thus, the Earth was not contracting at all or not quickly enough to explain mountains and other tectonic formations.

We now know how mountains are formed. Take for example the Himalayan Mountains: 225 million years ago the Eurasian plate collided with the Indian plate. According to the Geological Society,

The Eurasian plate was partly crumpled and buckled up above the Indian plate but due to their low density/high buoyancy neither continental plate could be subducted. This caused the continental crust to thicken due to folding and faulting by compressional forces pushing up the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau.

The Himalayan Mountains are still rising today actually.

Radiometric age determination also suggested an older Earth, again inconsistent with a contracting Earth. Lastly, paleomagnetic studies showed polar wandering paths that differed for each continent, suggesting fixism was false.So how does paleomagnetism develop, you may wonder. When lava cools to form basalt it develops crystals. Well, while these small magnetite crystals start to grow, the thermal energy causes the magnetic dipole associated with each crystal to move all over the place chaotically. The dipoles eventually slow down and just like small compass needles they align with the Earth’s magnetic field.

We can measure the circumference of the earth and track the movements of the tectonic plates with great accuracy by satellites. In fact there is a whole branch of science that is concerned with studying the Earth’s shape and gravitational field and how they change over time and it’s called geodesy. With high-precision space geodesy NASA can measure the Earth’s radius and note any changes. Some of these tools used by geodesy are:

  1. Satellite laser ranging - a global observation station network that measures, with millimeter-level precision, the time it takes for ultrashort pulses of light to travel from the ground stations to satellites specially equipped with retroreflectors and back again.

  2. Very-long baseline interferometry - a radio astronomy technology that combines observations of an object made simultaneously by many telescopes to simulate a telescope as big as the maximum distance between the telescopes.

  3. Global Positioning System - the U.S.-built space-based global navigation system that provides users around the world with precise location and time information. And how does this work? In order for the GPS system in your iPhone to work presupposes that the effects of Einsteinian relativity are true. Quoting Professor Richard Pogge of the Astronomy Department at Ohio State University quote:

    “Because an observer on the ground sees the satellites in motion relative to them, Special Relativity predicts that we should see their clocks ticking more slowly. Special Relativity predicts that the on-board atomic clocks on the satellites should fall behind clocks on the ground by about 7 microseconds per day because of the slower ticking rate due to the time dilation effect of their relative motion. Further, the satellites are in orbits high above the Earth, where the curvature of spacetime due to the Earth's mass is less than it is at the Earth's surface... A calculation using General Relativity predicts that the clocks in each GPS satellite should get ahead of ground-based clocks by 45 microseconds per day. The combination of these two relativistic effects means that the clocks on-board each satellite should tick faster than identical clocks on the ground by about 38 microseconds per day! This sounds small, but the high-precision required of the GPS system requires nanosecond accuracy, and 38 microseconds is 38,000 nanoseconds. If these effects were not properly taken into account, a navigational fix based on the GPS constellation would be false after only 2 minutes, and errors in global positions would continue to accumulate at a rate of about 10 kilometers each day! The whole system would be utterly worthless for navigation in a very short time.”

  4. Finally the last tool used by geodesy is Doppler Orbitography and Radiopositioning Integrated by Satellite - a French satellite system used to determine satellite orbits and positioning. Beacons on the ground emit radio signals that are received by satellites. The movement of the satellites causes a frequency shift of the signal that can be observed to determine ground positions and other information.

An international team of scientists led by Xiaoping Wu of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA set out to independently examine the accuracy of the International Terrestrial Reference Frame, which they hoped would shed new light on the Earth expansion/contraction theory.

According to the NASA article,

The team applied a new data calculation technique to estimate the rate of change in the solid Earth's average radius over time, taking into account the effects of other geophysical processes. The previously discussed geodetic techniques (satellite laser ranging, very-long baseline interferometry and GPS) were used to obtain data on Earth surface movements from a global network of carefully selected sites. These data were then combined with measurements of Earth's gravity from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft and models of ocean bottom pressure, which help scientists interpret gravity change data over the ocean.

The result? The scientists estimated the average change in Earth’s radius to be 0.004 inches (0.1 mm) per year, or about the thickness of a human hair, a rate considered statistically insignificant. "Our study provides an independent confirmation that the solid Earth is not getting larger at present, within current measurement uncertainties," said Wu.

The Growth of the Expanding Earth Hypothesis

There were all sorts of new views once contracting Earth fell out of favor, including expanding earth, pulsating earth, and Fixist-mobilist hybrids. Most geologists, however, still wanted to keep their fixism.

Like ideas about continental drift, expansionism didn’t pick up any steam until the 20th century. In 1956 Laszlo Egyed, professor at the Geophysical Institute of the Eötvös-University in Budapest, theorized that Earth was expanding, due to variations of sea levels in the geological past. He thought that the continents of his time were the remnants of ancient continental crust of a much smaller planet, which were surrounded by rocks that were much younger and generated along Mid-Oceanic Ridge fractures.

Egyed hypothesized that this increase in planetary volume could be caused by mineral phases in the Earth’s interior. When minerals are exposed to heat and pressure their crystal structure changes. In 1966, German physicist Pascual Jordan posited that the expanding earth was “imputable to the general dilatation of the space-time continuum.”

One of its main theoretical benefits was to explain continental drift within a fixist framework. Think about attaching paper continents to a balloon. When you inflate it, the paper continents will be further apart but not because they moved along the surface of the balloon.

Another benefit of expansionism is that it also explains why the seafloor is so much younger than the continents. While parts of the continents are 3.8 billion years old, the seafloor is only 200 million years old. That means that, somehow, 70% of the planets crust did not exist when Earth was formed. This makes sense under expansionism. As the earth expands and cracks, new parts of the crust are revealed.

The plate tectonic theory also explained the discrepancy, but was felt to have even more bizarre consequences. While it explained why the seafloor was so young, it required a huge amount of water disappearing from the planet as it was sucked into the earth.

One problem with continental drift is that the continents don’t perfectly fit into each other like puzzle pieces. But they DO fit perfectly if the Earth is 60% smaller! German geophysicist Ott Christoph Hilgenberg demonstrated this in the 1930’s with paper mache continents on a wooden globe. Samuel Warren Carey did the same with … logarithms.

Millions of years ago, the Earth was about 60% of its current size. There were no oceans or any water on the planet. In fact, there weren’t even places for oceans to be. As the Earth expanded, this giant land mass cracked. As the Earth expanded more, these cracks became larger and larger, allowing room for Oceans to appear.

But not everyone is impressed with these arguments. Paolo Sudiro notes that

The experimenters apparently failed to note that the process worked like a reversal of the contraction theory. Therefore, if the modern lithosphere had to adjust to a smaller Earth this would not just decrease intercontinental distances but also increase the deformation of the continents

The Expanding Earth Runs into Trouble

One of the biggest problems facing expansionism is figuring out how the Earth gets bigger in the first place. One suggestion was that the Earth pulsates: as it gets bigger oceans can form, and as it shrinks mountains can form. Another is that the earth gets bigger by accumulating cosmic debris. In other words, the land fill hypothesis.A fancy hypothesis had it that some chemical phase change was responsible. Just as water expands when it turns into ice, perhaps the same was happening in the molten core as it cooled down.

The biggest problem expansionists have to face is Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, which states that a planet’s gravitational force is proportional to its mass.If the Earth doubled in size while its density remained constant, its mass would increase 8 times and its surface gravity would double in strength. Assuming the expansionist claim that the Earth was 60% its current size, it’s gravitational force would be to weak to keep the Moon in orbit and to maintain the “Goldilocks” zone necessary for life to form.

So, how did expansionists handle this problem? By denying Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation! RationalWiki actually has a great line about this physics-denying move: “[An expanding earth] defied physics, but the geologists had been right and physics and chemistry wrong in the 19th century regarding the age of the Earth, and the geologists still had a great big smug on.” For context, physicists like Lord Kelvin and Helmholtz estimated the age of the sun to be between 50 and 500 million years old on the basis of the laws of thermodynamics, and thought the earth had a similar age. But geologists thought, on the basis of radiometric dating, that it was way older. The physicists were like “lol look at these cute stamp collectors” but this time the stamp collectors were RIGHT! The earth and sun are roughly 4.5 billion years old. So, way different than 500 million.

Some suggested that Newton’s gravitational constant decreased over time as the planets increased in size. Thus the surface gravity would remain constant. This idea isn’t totally alien to physics: Paul Dirac, one of the most important physicists of the 20th century, proposed that the universal gravitational constant changed over time and that new matter way created.

Others simply gave up the project of explaining why the Earth increased in size or how it was compatible with physics, leaving that problem to the physicists themselves. As recently as 1984, Warren Carey, an expanding Earth proponent, was featured in the New Scientist article “The Earth is Expanding and We Don’t Know Why” Carey admitted that it was not compatible with contemporary physics, and hoped for a day when a new scientific discovery would make them compatible.

Marie Tharp to the Rescue

In the late 1950’s, oceanic cartographer Marie Tharp and geophysicist Bruce Heezen published the first detailed map of the ocean floor. Tharp hand drew the map on the basis of research Heezen collected. Tharp wasn’t allowed to collect data because women weren’t allowed on research ships.

Most striking about the map is the presence of oceanic mountains, in particular the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which stretches from Greenland to the southern tip of South American smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A peculiar feature of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a valley running through the middle of it, with large peaks on either side. Tharp concluded that this was evidence of continental drift and the theory of plate tectonics. This valley would be the spot where tectonic plates meet.

Heezen himself initially dismissed Tharp’s claims as “girl talk”. Eventually Heezen was convinced that he was not only a sexist and an idiot but a sexist idiot, agreed with Tharp. They published their results, leading to the eventual consensus on plate tectonics.

The biggest problem was an explanation of how new seafloor is created on the basis of Tharp and Heezen’s discovery. As tectonic plates shift (in the oceanic ridges), the crust cracks and allows magma to bubble up to the surface. As it hits cold seawater, it cools and adds to the seafloor. Eventually this pushes the Oceanic mountain peaks further apart until they are added to the continental coastline. Through this process, the seafloor is completely recycled roughly every 200 million years, which explains why the seafloor is so young compared to the continents. Through this process, an amount of water the size of the pacific ocean has been subducted into the earth.

But not everyone is happy with this. Geologists continued to promote expansionism into the 70’s and 80’s. Carey himself was fond of exclaiming “Subduction is a myth!”

The Contemporary Expanding Earth Superhero: Comic Book Artist Neal Adams

But Carey’s legacy didn’t die in the 1980’s. Today his torch is carried by world famous comic book artist Neal Adams! We at None Dare Call It Ordinary know virtually nothing about comic books, so we consulted Dylan’s brother, who knows a ton about comics, and he had this to say:

I'm not really a big DC comics fan but he was in my opinion the best Batman artist of all time. He worked for Marvel also. What I respect about him the most was the fact that he was the main fighter for getting the creators of Superman a pension and creative rights recognition, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Neal Adams was inducted into Eisner Award's Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1998, the Harvey Awards' Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Inkwell Awards Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame in 2019.

But earlier in the 70’s, before Adams visualized what a battle between a heavyweight boxer and an All-American alien would look like, he cultivated an interest in geology. Like Wegner decades before him, Adams also was fascinated by the Pangea theory. However, he had a slightly different evaluation of it. In short, he didn’t buy it. "Put yourself in my place. You listen to this and as an artist you try to visualize it. And it occurs to you that this is totally wrong."

He also saw evidence that the Moon was growing too. The geological features called “mares” are, according to Adams, the stretch marks of the Moon. Adams’ has had a lot of rhetorical success due to the Moon. “Everyone I've ever showed this to has said, 'How could it be any other way?'”

But Adams didn’t just rely on his imagination; he had some rock-solid arguments to back up his skepticism. The first problem was that the Pangea model had a supercontinent on one side of the earth and a giant ocean on the other. Why is this a problem? “The Earth is spinning. When you spin something, everything on it evens out."

The second problem is that while everyone accepted that the Atlantic edges of the continents fit together (Africa into South America, Europe into North America, etc), Adams also thought that the PACIFIC edges of the continents fit together too. From the fantastic Wired article:

The Pangaea theory couldn't account for this fact, and no one dared acknowledge it, Adams reasoned, because it would be impossible for the continents to be joined along both the Atlantic and Pacific seams at once. Unless …

Like the great expansionist geologists who preceded them, Adams had no choice but to play around with models to prove to himself he was right. Instead of working with wood and paper mache, Adams traced the continents on paper and pasted them onto basketballs. Lo and behold, they all fit together! But not as on a standard Pangea model. Instead, like the expansionists of yesteryear, it turns out that they all fit together and cover the entire planet like a shell. But Adams went even farther: The earth was not 60% its current size 200 million years ago but only 33% its current size. Adams predicted based on his paper and basketball model that in another 200 million years the Earth will be the size Neptune is now.

Neal Adams Tackles Fundamental Physics

But like all Expansionists, Adams had to confront an age-old problem: Where is all this extra matter coming from? Like all totally humble non-experts, Adams dived head first into physic textbooks to learn about the atomic structure of matter. It was during these studies that the truly remarkable “breakthrough” occurred. Quoting from the Wired article,

Along the way he decided that the universe contains a fundamental building block that scientists haven't yet discovered, an electromagnetically balanced neutral particle that he calls "prime matter," which makes up 90 percent or more of our cosmos.”

It’s one thing to decide that prime matter exists, but what properties did Adams’ decide prime matter had? Prime matter controls the speed of light. That means that the speed of light is not constant, as Einstein proposed. That’s right: we’re not just denying Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation but E = MC^2 too! Adam’s describes prime matter as “matter in waiting”. As explained in the Wired article, “Given billions of years and the right conditions - like those at the center of the Earth and on the sun - it will evolve into the various elements of the periodic table.” In short, the conditions are ripe inside Earth for prime matter to develop into actual matter. This is why the Earth is getting bigger.

Adams thinks prime matter has already been discovered, but those silly physicists have given it the wrong name. He cites the experiments of Nobel-Prize winner Carl David Anderson, who discovered the positron, the positively charged cousin of the electron. That seemed to put up out of nowhere. Positrons are now considered antimatter, the opposites of matter that seek out their partner and destroy each other. Or at least that’s what physicists THINK is going on! Thankfully, Adams is here to correct the record. “They call it antimatter because they say it destroys matter. But that's not what it is."

Jeffrey M. O’Brien was also confused about this score, and Adams could tell during the interview.We can only give you, our reader, the same advice that Adams gave O’Brien at this point. “Stay with me because I'm about 10 minutes away from really fucking up your brain."

The brain-fucking commences with a series of rhetorical questions:

What if the positron isn't antimatter at all? What if it destroys itself in scientific experiments only because it's close to an electron? What if the positron couldn't find an electron? What would it do? Adams holds that a positron attracts - if there are no electrons nearby, it will seek out something else. But what?

The answer Adams provides is almost certainly true.

The Birds and the Bees of Physics

When the positron is not near any electrons to collide with in a fit of murder-suicide, it seeks out something else: Adams’ prime matter. Instead of destroying each other, the positron and prime matter combine to form “neutron material”. The prime matters wraps around the positron until it forms something 1,998 times larger than the positron. It turns out that protons are 1,998 times larger than positrons. Coincidence? Of course not! Protons just ARE positrons wrapped in a prime matter blanket

Now that the positron is cozy in its prime matter blanket, it won’t destroy any electrons it comes into contact with. But because the positron core is positively charged the whole package still attracts the electron. Instead of colliding and destroying each other, the electron orbits the proton instead. And that is how matter is born.

But what do scientists think of Adams’ work?

Adams’ explains all of his theories in his graphic novel A Conversation Between Two Guys in a Bar OR A New Model of the Universe, or Two Guys for short. O’Brien showed the book to various scientists, who had various things to say about it.

First he showed it to James Maxlow, who was a disciple of Carey and a PhD candidate at Western Australia’s Curtin University. It turns out that because of Carey’ influence, there is still a small minority of expansionist geologists in Australia. Maxlow was excited by Two Guys,  and thought that Adams popularity as a comic book artist could held spread the expansionist message (or as he prefers to call it, “growth”.) But Maxlow was still skeptical that expansionism would get much play in contemporary academia. “A lot of funding for research is going into plate tectonics, so scientists are reluctant to have me stir the pot."

UC Berkeley geophysics professor Mark Bukowinski had a much shorter and much less impressed reaction to Two Guys: “We do all kinds of measurements. The Earth is not growing."

University of Oregon physics professor Stephen Hsu (Sue), despite being a fan of Adams’ comics, was not a fan of Two Guys. Hsu says, “I admire Adams' enthusiasm, but there's a reason why physics is a professional subject." But with Hsu got a special opportunity; a chance to debate the man himself in a two hour discussion.

The Hsu/Adams Debate

The debate starts friendly enough. Adams claims that the then-recent discovery of dark matter was evidence that he was right. Hsu, being a “everything else is stampcollecting” physicist, had no problem dunking on geologists: “To us hardcore scientists, it seems like they just make up stories." This gives Adams the opportunity to also mount his own criticism to the geological consensus: “Anyone who raises their head above the morass will have to say that the Earth grew.”

But even the competent Adams is eventually stumped by Hsu. Hsu mentions that “when an electron and a positron emerge from a cosmic ray, all the energy they produce is accounted for in the byproduct: gamma radiation.” Adams is stunned by this claim. On his theory, there has to be “an extra bit of energy that incites the prime-matter-to-matter evolution process.” “"I never heard that before," [Adams] says. "I don't have an explanation for that."” This might be the first time in NDCIO history where someone admits they were less than certain about their theories, so bravo!

O’Brien himself is surprised by this, especially given Adams’ less than stellar views about geological orthodoxy.

He claims the scientific community speaks a language of exclusion in order to lock out the layperson - and that it discourages alternative thought with ridicule. He doesn't consider these actions intentionally malicious; he realizes that it's easier to go along with the status quo. "People tend not to want to question dogma," he says. "But I'm afraid of dogma."

But maybe Adams is able to turn this to himself, and question his OWN dogma. Well, based on what he’s up to nowadays, maybe not so much.

Neal Adams Today and Beyond

If you go to Neal Adams website nealadams.com you can watch some wonderful “science” videos. He shows us a graphic of the Earth spinning and shrinking to show that the continents fit perfectly if the earth was smaller. He says,

Please notice there is no subduction. No rotation of tectonic plates, no twisting, no form fitting, no altering shapes or sizes, it would be impossible IMPOSSIBLE for these continental plates to fit together perfectly without this being true. And yet the upper tectonic plates fit together perfectly on a much smaller planet. Yes, there’s been some erosion, landslides, blah blah, but overall this activity is insignificant. There is a kind of conspiracy of silence among certain scientists. They know but are not telling you that the upper tectonic plates of earth also join in the Pacific. Not partially they join totally. You are asked to believe that the continents swim or drift about willy nilly, bumping and crashing as if they were on a grease skillet. This is not true. The simple truth is apparently too upsetting to too many apple carts.

In his series of videos I do enjoy how Neal Adams uses all these images from NASA to explain how not only the earth but the moon and even Mars have expanded over time. Of course while at the same time ignoring NASAs actual evidence of a non-expanding earth we mentioned earlier. The gist of every video whether it’s the Earth, Mars, the Moon, Europa, etc., is basically - Adams shows some NASA images then shows us cracks and rifts on the planet or moon’s surface then slowly condenses the planet to show all the contours and riffs fit together perfectly.

Anyways, Neal says the computer generated animations he shows you are working off of a “strict set of rules”. These rules are never actually revealed so oh well. He also makes a lot of jokes about how dumb subduction is which really gets my blood boiling.

Brent can’t take it anymore!

Yeah, I’ve had about enough of this. As we’ve mentioned before on this podcast I have a Bachelor of Science (capital S) in Environmental Science. Most my classes were geology classes. Adams or Carey or whoever, you can make fun of geologists as a whole, that’s  fine. Whatever. I have some good friends that are geologists. But ok i’ll let that slide. You can laugh at all the actual evidence for plate tectonics but the one thing that you CANNOT do is trash subduction. Goddamn it! I have to put my foot down.

So we’ll end this blog post by explaining exactly once and for all what subduction is which will inevitably destroy all expanding earth nonsense still permeating out there.

Subduction is REAL! But what is it and how does it work? This is from my geology 101 textbook from college,

Subduction occurs for a simple reason: oceanic lithosphere, once it has aged at least 10 million years, is denser than asthenosphere and thus can sink through the asthenosphere. When it lies flat on the surface of the asthenosphere, oceanic lithosphere doesn’t sink, because the resistance of the asthenosphere to flow is too great. However, once the end of the convergent plate bends down and slips into the mantle, it begins to sink like an anchor falling to the bottom of a lake.

The oceanic plate as it sinks will gradually pull the rest of the plate along behind it. This is called the slab-pull force.

As the lithosphere sinks, asthenosphere flows out of its way, just as water flows out of the way of an anchor. Even though it is relatively soft and plastic, the asthenosphere resists flow, so oceanic lithosphere can sink only very slowly, at a rate of less than about 15 cm per year. The downgoing plate, the plate that has been subducted, must be composed of oceanic lithosphere. The overriding plate, which does not sink, can consist of either oceanic or continental lithosphere. Continental crust cannot be subducted because it is too buoyant.”

We wouldn’t have volcanic arcs if there was no such thing as subduction. We wouldn’t have earthquakes if it wasn’t for plate boundary interaction. We wouldn’t have certain mountain range uplift if it wasn’t for two colliding continents. We wouldn’t have continental rifting in Africa if it weren’t for plate movement. We also wouldn’t have hot-spot volcanoes like in Hawaii if it weren’t for the tectonic movement over mantle plumes.

And people like Neal Adams can call us plateheads all they want, but I for one consider that a badge of honor!  I’m a proud PLATEHEAD! You should be too. T-shirts coming soon!