Expanding Earth Theory-A Critical Review, Part 2

PSI Blog 20200406 Expanding Earth Theory-A Critical Review, Part 2

[GB: Readers have been asking us to review the Expanding Earth Theory. Although that is a bit removed from our usual focus on regressive physics and cosmogony, PSI member Bill Howell, a professional geologist, has consented to do the job. His review consists of three parts.]

Bill Howell

Evaluation of the Expanding Earth and Plate Tectonic Models

4)  Evaluation of Dr. Maxlow’s Expanding Earth Theory

The last blog identified two expanding Earth models proposed by Dr. Maxlow.  They are the Increasing Earth Radius and the Partial Increase in Earth Radius models.  The Increasing Earth Radius model does not accept that significant subduction of crustal material into the mantle of the Earth has occurred.  According to this model, the continents moved and the ocean basins formed as a direct result of the Earth’s radius expanding during the past 200 million years.  Accordingly, definitive evidence of subduction would not just invalidate, but would falsify the Increasing Earth Radius model.  It would not, however, falsify Maxlow’s Partial Increase in Earth Radius model which does accept a limited form of subduction based on the physical principle of isostasy. 

[Side bar: Isostasy is a geophysical concept that describes the buoyancy of a mass that is immersed or embedded within another substance of higher density.  Common examples are a floating cork and an ice cube in a glass of water.  Continental crustal material is less dense than oceanic crustal material, and both materials are less dense than the material composing the mantle.  A table of data on the webpage at http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Geophys/earthstruct.html supports the theory of Isostasy.  This table lists the average densities and depths for different layers of the Earth and also indicates that these densities increase with depth.  The continental crust averages 2.2 g/cm3, the oceanic crust averages 2.9 g/cm3, the upper mantle ranges from 3.4-4.4 g/cm3, the lower mantle ranges from 4.4-5.6 g/cm3, the outer core ranges from 9.9-12.2 g/cm3, and the inner core ranges from 12.8-13.1 g/cm3.  End Side bar]

According to Isostasy theory, crustal material (called the Lithosphere) essentially floats upon a layer of denser material that it is embedded in.  The Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isostasy describes three models of isostasy, one of which is the Vening Meinesz or flexural isostasy model.  In the Meinesz model, the Lithosphere acts like an elastic plate and its rigidity distributes the local topographic loads over a broad region by flexing.  The Wikipedia article also states that when continents collide, crustal material can thicken at the edges of the collision and be forced downwards by obduction.  Obduction is a geologic process in which rock material is thrust over and also under other crustal material by the compression that results from collision. 

If surface crustal material is pushed down into the subsurface (termed underplating), it is no longer in isostatic equilibrium because it is less dense and therefore more buoyant.  This is analogous to pushing an ice cube into a glass of water.  Like the ice cube, the crustal material will subsequently ‘float’ upwards to reestablish equilibrium.  The phenomenon called isostatic post-glacial rebound is an example of isostasy that explains why measurements of land that had been buried under ice sheets until about 10,000 years ago is now rising. 

In Dr. Maxlow’s models, mountains can be formed as a result of plate collisions pushing (obducting) material into the subsurface, followed by uplift via isostatic rebound as the density of the subsurface material reacquires equilibrium.  Because of the physics of density and buoyancy, crustal material can not be pushed (obducted) to any significant degree very much beyond the base of the continental crust.  In contrast, the PTT model states that while obduction can and does occur, oceanic material, being denser than crustal material is subducted into the mantle and often drags crustal material with it.  This distinction provides a test for the EET and PTT models.

The thickness of the earth’s crust varies from about 10 to 70 kilometers (km) and averages about 40 km.  The USGS webpage at (https://earthquake.usgs.gov/data/crust/) states that continental crust exceeding 50 km thick is exceedingly rare and accounts for less than 10% of all crustal material.  Therefore, in accordance with the isostatic rebound aspect of Maxlow’s model, earthquakes much below a depth of 70 km should not occur.  

Figure 2 shows the distribution of earthquake foci with depth below Japan.  Deep earthquake foci have occurred at depths of about 700 km below the surface, which is 10 times deeper than Dr. Maxlow’s model predicts can be obducted into the Earth at continental/oceanic margins.  A Google search provides other examples of deep earthquake foci at continental-oceanic boundaries around the world.

The evidence from deep earthquake foci supports the PTT model that crustal material is subducted into the mantle and invalidates the Increasing Earth model.  It does not necessarily invalidate the Partial Increase in Earth Radius model however, because Dr. Maxlow counters that this evidence of deep earthquake foci could be an indication that the Earth’s expansion during the past 200 million years has been so rapid that crustal material is still in the process of attaining isostatic equilibrium. 

Dr. Maxlow’s claim could be difficult to definitively refute were it not for the relatively new science of seismic tomography.  Figure 3 is an image created from seismic tomographic data.  It reveals that the Farallon Plate has been subducted into the mantle to depths of more than 2,400 km.  This evidence from seismic tomography of crustal material subducted deep into the mantle does invalidate the Partial Increase in Earth Radius model.  I don’t know how Dr. Maxlow counters this evidence because the term ‘seismic tomography’ does not appear in his book. 

Figure 3

But there are additional issues that Dr. Maxlow would need to address before his extraordinary claims could be accepted.  One that is also related to subduction involves the Geological Map of the World (Figure 4 below).  The bands of different colors indicate the relative ages of oceanic crust that was deposited on either side of mid-oceanic ridges where new crustal material forms.  Dating of sediments from the ocean floor reveals that the age of the oceanic crust in these bands increases with distance away from their mid-oceanic ridge.  This Figure of the age-banding of oceanic crust is a key feature that Dr. Maxlow cites in his book.

Figure 4. From Tectonics: The Road Not Taken, Figure 1.1 Geological Map of the World.

In the center of Figure 4 is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  It provides a great example of an interpretation that oceanic crust has filled in the gap created by the separation of the American and African-Eurasian continents.  Lighter and darker shades of green are shown along the margins of both the continental landmasses.  This symmetry, however, is not seen in the banding from the Pacific Ocean basin.  Although the western portion of the green-shaded banding extends across the entire Pacific Ocean basin, its symmetrical compliment to the right of the mid-oceanic rise along the west coasts of the American continent is completely missing.  This lack of symmetry is most clearly illustrated by the lack of any green (and dark-brown) shading along Peru and Chile.  These color bands do not appear on the eastern side of South America and seem to have simply disappeared somewhere.

Dr. Maxlow could argue that this missing oceanic crust has been obducted beneath the continents, and this argument is supported by the illustration at https://go.glennborchardt.com/EET-F4b which depicts obducted crustal material underplating under Chili.  However, seismic data reveals that beneath the Andes mountains there is a very steeply dipping Wadati-Benioff zone similar to what is shown in Figure 2 above.  The Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep-focus_earthquake#Andes states that deep earthquakes occur beneath the Andes mountains at depths of up to 670 km.  This is well below the depths that could occur from isostatic equilibrium.  PTT contends that obduction can occur, but that most crustal material is subducted.  In contrast, EET contends that such deep subduction can not occur.

Another issue Dr. Maxlow needs to address is the existence of the San Andreas Fault in California.  The San Andreas is a type of transform fault that results from the relative motion between the North American and Pacific tectonic plate boundaries.  It is a northwest-southeast trending strike-slip fault that runs almost the entire length of California.  South of San Jose, California, and adjacent to the San Andreas Fault zone, is the Pinnacles National Monument.  Pinnacles N.M. is a volcanic remnant whose stratigraphy has been correlated with the Neenach Formation located near Lancaster, California, 300 km to the south.  The correlation of these two formations is an historic event in the history of geologic science because it established that large scale strike-slip displacement has, occurred along the San Andreas Fault during the past 23 million years.  The PTT model can easily account for this motion, but the EET model apparently cannot since the term ‘San Andreas’ does not appear even once in Dr. Maxlow’s book.

Still another issue for EET to address is the evidence of marine fossils that lived during the Paleozoic Era 350 to 250 million years ago.  Marine fossils from this era existed long before the Jurassic Period when Dr. Maxlow’s model predicts that ocean basins began to form.  Accordingly, marine fossils from the Paleozoic would appear to contradict his model.  They don’t, however, because Dr. Maxlow states that inland (epicontinental) seas covered the continental landmasses prior to the formation of ocean basins and so these fossils could represent animals that lived in seas rather than oceans.  How one goes about differentiating a marine fossil that lived in an inland sea from one that lived in an ocean is a rabbit hole I’m not going down. 

Yet another issue for Dr. Maxlow to address is that if the Earth has doubled its radius during the past 200 million years, then there should be observational geodetic and gravimetric data to support this claim.  Amazingly enough, there is such data, but it indicates that the radius of the Earth over the past few decades has only increased by an average of 0.2 millimeters/year [6].  As Dr. Maxlow acknowledges, this rate of increase is 100 times smaller than the 22 millimeters/year he calculates are required to support an expanding Earth model. 

A final issue Dr. Maxlow needs to explain is what I call ‘Another Missing Mass Problem’ (in reference to the astrophysical problem that resulted in our current paradigm about Dark Matter).  If the Earth has doubled in size during the past 200 million years, where did this additional mass come from?  Dr. Maxlow speculates that electrons in the solar plasma are captured by the Earth’s magnetic field and converted into matter within the interior of the Earth. 

I don’t know whether or not it is possible for solar plasma to enter into the Earth and be transformed into matter, but the concept seems to be another ad hoc speculation required by his model in order to explain how the Earth’s radius could have doubled during the past 200 million years.  Dr. Maxlow acknowledges that this solar plasma solution is speculative, but that only makes it yet another extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.  And with no evidence (much less any extraordinary evidence), I don’t know how anyone can evaluate such an idea.  It feels like going down yet another rabbit hole.  After a while, chasing down so many ‘alternative interpretation’ rabbit-holes begins to feel like a game of Whack-a-Mole. 

End of Part 2

In the third and final part of this essay, I describe a possible synthesis of both the EET and PTT models which could resolve the controversy for those who are attracted to the theory of an expanding Earth.

Bill Howell, 2020 howellb004@gmail.com


[6] Shen, Sun, Chen, Zhang, LI, HAN, & Ding. Evidences of Earth Expansion from Space-Geodetic and Gravimetric Observations. Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture, 37th Interdisciplinary Workshop of the International School of Geophysics, Erice, Sicily, 4-9 October 2011, 131-134

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