Plate tectonics may have started much earlier than previously thought

In June, we learned that there was fresh water and land on Earth four billion years ago, which brought forward the presence of fresh water on our planet by 500 million years. This week, “Plate tectonics – the geological machinery of Earth that floats giant chunks of Earth’s crust on the mantle – may have started much earlier than many scientists think, researchers reveal,” reports Science. Enough to shake up the ancient history of our planet.

To reach this conclusion, Ross Mitchell and his geophysicist colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences analyzed very ancient zircon crystals, that is, minerals found in the Earth’s crust, using an artificial intelligence algorithm.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The results support the existence of tectonic movements only a few hundred million years after the formation of the Earth. It is generally accepted that plate tectonics began more than three billion years ago. This would have occurred a billion years earlier if these results were confirmed by other studies.

A hypothesis that is gaining momentum

Bringing forward the date of the appearance of plate tectonics is not trivial, since “tectonic movements could have been at the origin of the formation of the first non-submerged land, which would have helped the appearance of life,” says the science magazine. For Ross Mitchell, “the Earth would have been habitable during the Hadean (first period of the Earth’s history)”.

The magazine Science indicates that the hypothesis of early tectonics is increasingly shared in the community of geophysicists. For Roger Fu, from Harvard University in the United States, the ideal would be to work on zircons from a place other than the Jack Hills, in Australia, in order to show that we are indeed dealing with a global and not a local phenomenon. Today, all geological studies that go back as far as possible into the past are based solely on the analysis of zircons found in the soils of the Australian Outback.

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