Scientists at the University of Toronto are convinced that earthquakes, volcanoes, shifting continents and even climate change are driven by a type of heat engine working deep beneath the earth’s surface. They have developed a model of the inner workings of the earth that will help solve the mystery of why and how features on the surface of the planet are constantly changing.

“In effect, we have found that the solid earth is being churned by a four-piston heat engine with two immense sinking cold slabs and two equally large rising hot plumes,” says Alessandro Forte.

“We have discovered something grandiose in size and yet remarkably simple and symmetric,” adds co-researcher, Jerry Mitrovica.

The earlier model of the earth was based on the plate tectonics theory formulated in the 1960s. In the 1980s, scientists measured earthquake waves in order to get information about the internal structure of the earth. Themeasurements showed areas under the earth’s surface below the Pacific Ocean where earthquake waves traveled faster and other regions where they slowed down.

Scientists originally thought that giant blobs of stagnant material slowed down the earthquake waves in some places beneath the surface, but the new model shows that these giant blobs float to the surface and contribute to the ebb and flow of the earth’s mantle.

Micheal Manga, of the University of California, says, “The compositional variations and temperature anomalies mapped by Forte and Mitrovica, along with mantle flow, are snapshots of a dynamic earth.”

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