Abrupt global events in the Earth's history: A physics perspective

Gregory Ryskin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The timeline of the Earth's history reveals quasi-periodicity of the geological record over the last 542 Myr, on timescales close, in the order of magnitude, to 1 Myr. What is the origin of this quasi-periodicity? What is the nature of the global events that define the boundaries of the geological time scale? I propose that a single mechanism is responsible for all three types of such events: mass extinctions, geomagnetic polarity reversals, and sea-level fluctuations. The mechanism is fast, and involves a significant energy release. The mechanism is unlikely to have astronomical causes, both because of the energies involved and because it acts quasi-periodically. It must then be sought within the Earth itself. And it must be capable of reversing the Earth's magnetic field. The last requirement makes it incompatible with the consensus model of the origin of the geomagnetic field-the hydromagnetic dynamo operating in the Earth's fluid core. In the second part of the paper, I show that a vast amount of seemingly unconnected geophysical and geological data can be understood in a unified way if the source of the Earth's main magnetic field is a ∼200 km thick lithosphere, repeatedly magnetized as a result of methane-driven oceanic eruptions, which produce ocean flow capable of dynamo action. The eruptions are driven by the interplay of buoyancy forces and exsolution of dissolved gas, which accumulates in the oceanic water masses prone to stagnation and anoxia. Polarity reversals, mass extinctions and sequence boundaries are consequences of these eruptions. Unlike the consensus model of geomagnetism, this scenario is consistent with the paleomagnetic data showing that 'directional changes during a reversal can be astonishingly fast, possibly occurring as a nearly instantaneous jump from one inclined dipolar state to another in the opposite hemisphere'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number122801
JournalReports on Progress in Physics
Volume73
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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