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term paper - Hebson 1 John Hebson PHYS 4450 Term Paper...

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Hebson 1 John Hebson 4-28-09 PHYS 4450 Term Paper Drifting Through History Our world is an amazing place. Over the past four and a half billion years or so, it has evolved from an almost molten blob of rock into the green and fertile place, flourishing with life, that we know today. This past has been a violent one; one where geological forces ripped and twisted the crust to shape the vast and beautiful landscape which we see and enjoy today. For centuries, scientist have tried to figure out exactly how the earth’s crust came to be shaped the way in which it has been. Many theories have been proposed and only a few have been accepted and improved upon since then. Throughout the course of this paper, the theories of the processes that created our world will be explained and analyzed in order to better understand them as well as their evolution and significance to the history of science. Since the 1600’s, scientists have noticed the puzzle like fit that the seven continents of our world have shared. Consequently, they have been searching for a way to explain this ever since. In the mid 1800’s, Edward Suess came up with a plausible but highly falsifiable theory. To summarize, he stated that the world was like a drying apple, in that, it was once super heated and has been cooling and thus, contracting ever since (Oreskes 4). This caused canyons and mountains to form when surface area shrank and the material had nowhere to go but up and down. As the world cooled more, there was an interchange of sea and land. This interchange was said to occur many times throughout the earth’s history. This theory was able to explain some of our world’s phenomena such as how fossils from what was once the sea floor can now be found in land locked areas. It also explained how sediments from land and sea could be
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Hebson 2 layered in the same area (Oreskes 5), but still many questions remained unanswered. With Darwin’s new theory of evolution, this theory became problematic, and thus, highly falsifiable because one could ask the simple question of why do some fossils look so similar if they evolved in separate and diverse climates that were supposedly thousands of miles apart? This led North American Geologist James Dwight Dana to come up with a similar but different theory which he called permanence. He stated that different materials that made up the earth cooled at different rates. For instance, quartz and feldspar cooled and solidified first and then higher temperature minerals such as olivine and pyroxene solidified. These different rates of cooling created the ocean basins and continents at different times allowing animals to inhabit what are now different areas of the world, at the same time (Oreskes 5). New York state geologist added to this theory of permanence by theorizing a way in which mountains were formed. Briefly put, he claimed that eroded minerals accumulated in basins causing more subsidence until the weight of the
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