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Earth’s History

Posted January. 14, 2005 23:00,   


The India-Australia plate, located on the west side of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, and the Eurasia plate belonging to the Burma plate clashed underneath the sea on the morning of December 26, 2004. The clash forced movement of the India-Australia plate, which slipped underneath the Burma plate and caused the Burma plate to lift. As a result, the sea soared upwards. An earthquake of a 9.0 on the seismic intensity scale and the tsunami wrecked havoc, already known to all, taking away more than 150,000 lives.

The South Asian earthquake and the tsunami disaster have shown us the power of invisible movements of the earth, and contrastingly, the powerlessness of humans, who have lived as if they conquered the place they exist on. Author Richard Fortey, chief paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, has already foretold this perspective.

This book explains the features of the Earth we live on. The fundamental control underneath the surface of the Earth is six grand plates (12, including small plates). Straightforwardly, the author writes, “The world follows the commands of the plates,” from the beginning of the book. These commands are unavoidable for humans.

The commands are delivered to us slowly and quietly, taking an unimaginably long period. The continents crisscrossed initially and the formation of oceans completed. The oceans disappeared as mountain belts were created, and you see the commands in the movements of the Earth’s plates. This movement, also known as the Wilson Cycle, takes over 200 million years, taken from Tuzo Wilson, who first ran an article containing the concept of Earth’s plates in Nature magazine. The Earth’s age of 45 million years is equivalent to the repetition of the Wilson Cycle.

Within the cycle period, the surface of the Earth, apparently tranquil, vibrates irregularly, mobilizing all kind of methods that are inconceivable for us. The plates dilate and shrink, and the seas rise and fall. The continents move as well. The Mediterranean Sea, with many attached plates on its bottom, will vanish when the African continent pushes up toward Europe across the span of more than 30 million years. Oceans and mountains are the arrangements like the puzzle pieces inlaid on the mosaic of the Earth plates. When the plates move, everything takes a rearranged position.

The secret that makes this book enticing is that Fortey describes the history of the Earth fairly easily and accurately. He does not take the concept-oriented approach commonly found in textbooks. However, he introduces the real faces of plates, their structure, and movements, and takes readers to several special locations that he has visited and that have entangled stories of both history and geology. His journey exploring the Earth traces the Vesuvius volcano in Italy, which caused the collapse of Pompeii, Hawaii, the Alps, Newfoundland in North America, the San Andres fault on the west coast of the U.S., Caledonia Mountain in Scandinavia, Iceland, and Greenland.

Following his search, we come to know the ways in which the Earth and humans relate to each other. Roughly saying, it depends on the rock’s composition that occupies each region. Actually, it is rocks that bring differences in climate, landscape, and ways of living such as an agricultural or a nomadic lifestyle. Needless to say, the movements of the plates form rocks. Therefore, the author states, “The rocks underneath our feet are equivalent to the unconsciousness world of the Earth, hidden behind its face, that decide the face’s atmosphere and appearance of the Earth. Like the collective consciousness Carl Jung mentioned, our responses are not solely from ourselves; rather, they are produced in the situation of being influenced by the things deep inside the Earth.”

This book definitely belongs in the science book category; however, it also captures tones of revelation. Warnings to self-important humans ignorant to principles of the Earth can be found in places of the book. Fortey says, “Human beings, who are like the ticks that were abundantly reproduced when the seas got lower and the climate got warmer, should equip themselves modesty accordingly to their positions.” But, what can we do? The earthquake and tsunami that battered South Asia are already being forgotten by many of us.

The English title of this book is: “The Earth - An Intimate History (2004).”

Dong-Yong Min mindy@donga.com