[T]here’s more to plate tectonics than earthquakes and eruptions. A wave of new research is increasingly hinting that Earth’s external motions may be vital to its other defining feature: life. That Earth has a moving, morphing outer crust may be the main reason why Earth is so vibrant, and why no other planet can match its abundance.
In the past few years, geologists and astrobiologists have increasingly tied plate tectonics to everything else that makes Earth unique. They have shown that Earth’s atmosphere owes its longevity, its components, and its incredibly stable Goldilocks-like temperature — not too hot, but not too cold — to the recycling of its crust. Earth’s oceans might not exist if water were not periodically subsumed by the planet’s mantle and then released. Without plate tectonics driving the creation of coastlines and the motion of the tides, the oceans might be barren.
[P]late tectonics might be necessary for the evolution of advanced species. [geologist Robert Stern] reasons that dry land on continents is necessary for species to evolve the limbs and hands that allow them to grasp and manipulate objects, and that a planet with oceans, continents and plate tectonics maximizes opportunities for speciation and natural selection.
“I think you can get life without plate tectonics. I think we did. I don’t think you can get us without plate tectonics,” he said.
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