Scientists Develop Dynamic Model of Earth’s Surface Over the Past 100 Million Years

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The combination of climate, tectonics, and time creates powerful forces that shape the Earth’s surface. Additionally, the gradual sculpting of the Earth’s surface by rivers means that what we perceive as solid rock is in a constant state of change.

Our understanding of this dynamic process has been incomplete at best.

Recently, scientists published new research in the journal Science, detailing a dynamic model of the Earth’s surface over the past 100 million years. This model was created through collaboration between geoscientists at the University of Sydney and scientists in France.

This new model provides a high-resolution understanding of how today’s geophysical landscapes were formed, as well as how millions of tons of sediment have made their way to the oceans.

Dr. Tristan Salles, the lead author from the University of Sydney School of Geosciences, stated that in order to predict the future, we must first understand the past. However, our current geological models only offer a fragmented understanding of how the Earth’s physical features have formed in recent times.

A high-resolution model that provides a continuous understanding of the interplay between river basins, erosion, and sediment deposition at a global scale over the past 100 million years does not currently exist.

However, the scientific community has made significant progress in this area with the publication of a new dynamic model, which uses a framework that includes geodynamics, tectonic and climatic forces, and surface processes. This model is broken down into frames of a million years and has a resolution of up to 10 kilometers.

This model is a significant advance that not only helps us investigate the past but also helps scientists understand and predict the future.

Dr. Laurent Husson from the Institut des Sciences de la Terre in Grenoble, France, who is the second author, said that this unprecedented high-resolution model of Earth’s recent past equips geoscientists with a more complete and dynamic understanding of the Earth’s surface.

Importantly, the model captures the dynamics of sediment transfer from the land to the oceans in a way that was previously not possible.

Dr. Salles emphasized the importance of understanding the flow of sediment from terrestrial environments to marine environments to comprehend the current state of ocean chemistry.

Given that human-induced climate change is rapidly changing ocean chemistry, a more complete picture of the past can aid in understanding marine environments.

The new model will enable scientists to test various theories on how the Earth’s surface will respond to changes in climate and tectonic forces.

Additionally, the research provides an improved model to understand how the transportation of Earth sediment regulates the planet’s carbon cycle over millions of years.

The findings of this research will provide a dynamic and detailed background for scientists in other fields to prepare and test hypotheses, such as in biochemical cycles or biological evolution.

More information: Tristan Salles, Hundred million years of landscape dynamics from catchment to global scale, Science (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.add2541

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