Frame of Reference - Index

26) Almost every day there is an earthquake somewhere on Earth, mostly in zones where the lithosphere is broken into giant fragments called tectonic plates. Earthquake zones lie along the cracks between these plates and reflect the activity of the molten rock below. Earthquakes are the rumbling of the plates moving past each other or other geologic activity below the surface.

On average, tectonic plates slip past each other an inch or so each year (as much as 18 centimeters per year in some areas of the East Pacific Rise). Along California's San Andrea's Fault two giant tectonic plates are slipping intermittently. Some sections show almost continuous micro-earthquakes which release tension--other sections, seismic gaps, show no activity. This later is where the BIG ONE will occur, as the pressure builds to a point where it can only be released by a massive SLIP. But when? In a slip that triggers a major quake, the plates may move a few yards or more. These shallow earthquakes below the surface 40 miles do the most damage. The effect of deeper quakes tends to be buffered by the intervening crust.

These tectonic plates are the builders of mountain ranges and may have contributed to the origin of life on Earth. To the extent these horrific events are considered 'acts of god,' they are awe inspiring; otherwise they are reasonably easy to explain--it's just a matter of time.

27) There is evidence that local heating and melting of Earth's solid lithosphere does take place and these transitions are responsible for volcanic activity. The eruptions which still continue today (i.e. Mt. St. Helens in Washington State) release large quantities of volatile elements to the surface. Such volcanic outgassing over the long course of Earth's history is the most probable source of oceans and the atmospheric gasses. Water vapor and carbon dioxide are the principal constituents of modern volcanic gases; hydrogen, nitrogen, ammonia, methane, chlorine and many other gases occur in smaller quantities.

I visited (again) Mt. St. Helens in August of 2000. (I had camped at the foot of the mountain, on Spirit Lake, as a boy scout in the late 50s.) A visit to a massive volcano is something of a spiritual experience, to the extent that an Atheist can have such a thing. To see up close and personal the monstrous effects of the explosion: the dynamic results of massive land and water slides, the trees all felled in the same direction -- lying like so many straws, the clever patterns of debris where a chunk of glacier stopped, melted, deposited a cone shape of rock and dust is to be that much closer to the violent (life giving) nature of Earth. All that reminds one of how fragile our life is, yet we feel, and deserve to feel, so robust!

28) There are many theories to explain the extinction of dinosaurs and other species: asteroids, meteorites, sea-level changes, global warming, toxic oceans, and volcanoes. This last possibility gained some needed data

"when geochronologist Paul Renne dated rocks from the end of the Permian period (about 250 million years ago) and volcanic rocks from the Siberian Traps, the site of the greatest eruptions ever, and found they were the same age. . . Renne thinks the real killers were volcanic gases, which caused acid rain and climate change. . . Below the town of Norilsk in Siberia, lies a two-and-a-half-mile-thick pile of lava overgrown by conifers. . . Thick pulsing flow of glowing magma gushed out from numerous broad, flat volcanoes, hundreds of cubic miles spread across Siberia, enough to cover the Earth to a depth of about 20 feet." ("National Geographic": September, 2000)
Something killed 90 percent of Earth's species about that time. Less than 5 percent of the animal species in the seas survived. On land fewer than one third of the large animal species lived to evolve. Nearly all trees died. In the hills of the northern Czech Republic, the forest has been killed during the last 20 years by acid rain, which makes it resemble the affect of this first major extinction. The predominant animals for more that 60 million years were various species of synapsid, a cross between a dog and a lizard in appearance, although they took other forms as well--all gone.

This extinction cycle took place over a period of 100,000 years, and therefore could have been caused by a combination of events including all the above. A 75 mile crater buried in Australia has been discovered. It was left by an asteroid more than three miles across and dates to this time. Tiny quartz crystals with microscopic fractures have been found in rocks formed in this period and confirm the staggering force needed to create these remnants. "The atmosphere would have been thick with carbon dioxide from fires and decaying matter. This excess CO2 would have contributed to global warming that lasted millions of years. . . The entire ocean may have stagnated in Permian times" because of the dramatic changes. (ibid.)

29) Earth went through some traumatic changes to get to where we are (temporarily) today. Earth's land-mass above sea level is what we see after all these conflicting forces, creating a diverse geography in which Homo sapiens have thrived (overpopulated). During the last 4 million years alone, Earth's magnetic field reversed itself no less than nine times at odd intervals. Magnetometer studies of the ocean floor showed ribbons of strong and weakly magnetized areas parallel with the midocean ridges. The rate of formation of these ridges of lava indicates the rate of spreading of the continent plates and coincides with the reversals of Earth's magnetic 'north.'

The earthquakes along the mid-ocean ridge show that Earth's outer shell, some sixty miles thick at its deepest, is cracked like a giant eggshell. (verse 26) As many as twenty plates exist and drift about rubbing and chafing, sub-ducting, up-lifting and sliding one edge below the other. We study the result of this geology and interpret it with Geography. These features and the resulting rivers, mountains, and climate become a deciding factor as to where civilization flourishes. At the cross roads of commerce, near the confluence of rivers, at the intersection of lines of communication, in the fertile valleys--these are the places where people came together in safety and exchanged ideas. That is where civilization grew. In these populated locations language, writing, and 'history' was made and recorded. The history of the Earth, such as that recorded in the ocean floor is just as accurate as those meager records left by Man beginning as little as thirty thousand years ago.

30) Earth Orbit is a new piece of real estate, or so it seems. There are numerous satellites circling around Earth at various elevations and some in geo-syncronys orbits (stationary with respect to Earth). (Two such satellites send television programming to my home.) One of the most publicized of these orbiting satellites is the Hubble Space Telescope circling in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 320 miles. (Named after Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) who proved that other galaxies were speeding away from us; his work, in part, led to the development of the big bang theory.) The original cost estimate, $450 million, escalated to $1.6 billion before it was launched and deployed on April 24, 1990. The original results were disappointing because of errors made in the preparation of the large, main reflecting mirror. This was replaced by a manned spacewalk during December 5-9, 1993. Total cost of this project will exceed $4 billion (shared by NASA and the European Space Agency) before the completion of this project. This proves, or at least demonstrates, how valuable information about Universe is for the future and comfort of humanity.

31) When we wonder at the existence of the world, are we suggesting that the details of Earth are a miracle, beyond imagination? If what we mean by this term 'miracle' is, that these facts have not yet been explained by science, then we are placing the unexplained facts into a different category, such as why we see color, which science has explained quite well.

". . . The truth is that the scientific way of looking at a fact is not the way to look at it as a miracle. [A fact of nature] is not in itself miraculous in the absolute sense of that term. . . we are using the word 'miracle' in a relative [comparison] and an absolute sense. . . Now I am tempted to say that the right expression in language for the miracle of existence of the world, though it is not any proposition in language, is the existence of language itself. . .all I have said by shifting the expression of the miraculous from an expression 'by means of language' to the expression 'by the existence' of language. . .is that we cannot express what we want to express and that all we say about the absolute miraculous [nature of the world] remains nonsense." (Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Lecture on Ethics," 1930) (see Vicesimus Alter Stele: Ethical Decisions, verse 16)
32) The thin coating around Earth, Atmosphere, is proportionately no thicker than the skin of an apple is to an apple in relation to the size of Earth. Gravity compresses the air so that half its mass lies within 3.5 miles (5.5 km) above the surface. All the weather occurs within an average depth of 12 miles (20 km).

Much of the ultraviolet radiation coming from Sun is stopped many miles above Earth and creates ionized layers known as the Ionosphere, which is used conveniently to reflect radio waves from one location on Earth to another. The height of this useful Ionosphere fluctuates from night to day, making radio reception better at night.

Much of infra-red (heat) radiation is likewise absorbed, lower in Atmosphere, in that beneficial zone of Mesosphere. Most of cosmic radiation is broken up by collisions far above the ground level into such particles as 'mu-mesons'. Only a few cosmic rays, harmless radio waves and visible light penetrate the entire blanket of Atmosphere.

33) The structure of the weather at its most extreme, a hurricane for example, is illustrative of the way inertia transforms into angular momentum. The swirl of clouds rotating around a calm center can extend 10 to 12 miles high, through the entire Troposphere. The motion of stars forming galaxies has a similar appearance, though the causes of motion vary dramatically.

At very high latitudes the Atmosphere radiates heat to space. The Arctic is essentially an ocean surrounded by land, whereas the Antarctic is land surrounded by ocean. The land around the Arctic quickly takes up solar heat but the southern oceans transfer heat to deeper water to make the Antarctic the coldest region on Earth. Because the air is so intensely cold it can hold very little moisture, so the south polar region is a freezing desert with exceptionally clean air.



The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things
and does not strain.
It rests in places that most people despise,
and so it approaches the Tao.


Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong,
nothing is better;. . . (Lao Tzu)

35) The surface of the ocean is an illusive mirror with a wide variety of contrasts ranging from glassy calm to terrifying storms causing towering waves and wind-whipped wraiths of spray. Under this tempestuous surface is a world apart, only partially observable by normal man even with the aid of sophisticated equipment. No part of the ocean is ever really still, the whole mass ebbs, circulates and flows on a global scale with tides being just one immediately observable phenomenon. The ocean is possessed by great currents, some near the surface and some at great depths which profoundly alter not only the surface but also the weather. The Gulf Stream current moves north along the Atlantic coast of North America and disperses around Europe bringing a milder climate than the latitude would justify otherwise. The Kuroshio warm current flows northeast off Japan bringing gentle weather to Alaska, occasionally. Conversely the Peru Current brings cold water from the sub-Antarctic region northward towards the equator. The surface flow is accompanied by an upwelling of water rich in nutrients along the coast of Chile and Peru supporting great fisheries. The romantic, hypnotic motion of the waves on the beach is only a hint at the complex interaction of motion and ferment in the oceans that cover 71% of Earth's surface.

36) There is enough water in the oceans to cover a theoretical smooth globe to a depth of 8,000 feet. (2500 m.) The expanding and receding polar ice-caps associated with the ice ages caused huge fluctuations in what we call sea level. If the ice-caps were to melt, sea level would rise about 200 feet (60 m.) and displace half the world's population. The average depth of the sea is 12,000 feet (3,600 m.), five times the average height of the land above sea level. 60% of the world's population lives only 1 mile from the ocean.

A relief map of the ocean floor reveals a rugged and intriguing pattern of mountains and plains, the evidence of continental shifting is unmistakable. One remarkable feature under the surface is the almost continuous mid-ocean mountain range which winds 40,000 miles (64,000 km.) around Earth. It surfaces occasionally, as near Iceland, forming isolated volcanic islands. By far the largest proportion of the ocean floor (below sediment layers) is basaltic volcanic rock derived from partial melting of the mantle beneath. This indicates that the earliest crust of Earth to form was volcanic and composed of basalt.

37) An expanding Earth is one explanation for the patterns of land above sea level. 4.5 billion years ago Earth was entirely covered with crust material equal in area to today's continents. An intermediate stage with a radius of 2,735 miles is suggested by the worn-down stumps of ancient mountain folds, while the symmetry of younger fold-mountains indicates that the radius when they were formed was approximately 3,730 miles. If the shapes of the modern continents are preserved as nearly as possible they would fit a globe about 2,600 miles in radius, which may be the size of Earth at the time the crust was formed. This is not just the stuff of science fiction, but reality!

38) Earth is an interesting treasury of crystal jewels. Many different minerals exist, and these give a range of color, shape, texture and form that make them truly wonders to behold, polish, cut and shape. Mysterious and esoteric powers are frequently attributed to certain crystals in much the same way Man has attributed supernatural attributes to pyramids and other objects he does not understand, such as Moon. Each crystal grows from a nucleus by adding atoms layer by layer. The brilliance of transparent gems is due to the way light is reflected inside the stone, and Man has learned to cut stones to enhance their apparent beauty. Certainly diamonds have an aesthetic (as well as industrial) value and have become a traditional gift between newlyweds in many modern cultures.

39) One such crystal (halite) is salt, sodium chloride (NaCl). This is one of Man's most important chemicals and occurs on land and in the seas in unbelievable abundance. The Pacific Ocean alone contains enough salt to cover the North American continent with a layer more than 2,000 feet thick. Each cubic mile of sea water contains more than 100,000,000 tons of salt (about 3%). The Dead Sea (Israel) and the Great Salt Lake (Utah, USA) are two of nature's curiosities with in excess of 22% salt (including other kinds of salts) in solution. Of course there are many other chemical compounds called salts, but none so abundant as NaCl. Sodium, a very active metal, combines with the poisonous gas chlorine to make salt, an essential part of our diet and found in almost all plants and animals. All tissues of the body and body fluids such as blood, perspiration, lymph and tears contain salt.

40) In the year 2000, some 93 million people took family vacations, and 50 million of those went to a beach. So the facination with the ocean is deeply engrained in our culture. The sea contains mysteries and intrigue beyond this fascination for the beach.

The seascape along the East Pacific Rise, two and one half miles below sea level, is mostly dark, lifeless and cold. Except, in the rift, water that sinks into cracks in the floor touches magma and spouts back up from pillars, chimneys and vents. These undersea geysers are superheated, and they are full of minerals. Because warmth and minerals are precious at such depths, colonies of giant clams, tubeworms and crabs have clustered by the vents utilizing the life giving warm water (oblivious to the absence of solar energy). We are just now learning about other similar phenomenon deep at the bottom of the sea.

41) In April 1973, there was a series of volcanic eruptions from three separate vents off the coast of Japan south of Tokyo. By September, lava had risen above sea level and the three streams flowed together to form a new island, Nishimo. In this way, geophysicists say much of the Japanese archipelago rose in the sea during the past thirty million years.

The northern tip of the Australian Plate has been rammed up against Asia creating the Himalayas. This long arc of mountains marks the welt where the two plates have been sutured together. India is still crashing into Asia at a speed of two inches a year. Over the course of 40 million years, the crash has thrust Mount Everest -- once the rock bottom of a shallow sea, to the top of the world.

Thus has been formed the character of Earth.

42) In 1991, Henri Cosquer was 120 feet beneath the surface of the Mediterranean Sea swimming with scuba gear. He passed through a 450 foot tunnel that sloped gently upward and discovered an immense air filled cave that has not been visited for 18,500 years. Columns of amber-colored stalagmites rise from the floor and fantastic stalactites hang from the ceiling. The ground is encrusted with crystals, and curtains of transparent minerals are draped over the cave walls like ice sculptures. There are images of deer, bison (a type now extinct), auroch (a bison-like animal that stood over six feet high at the shoulder, was 13 feet long and weighed more than 2,000 lbs., now extinct), reindeer, megaloceros (now extinct), and the extinct auk.

Nine thousand years earlier other visitors outlined their hand prints with red dye dated with carbon-14 to 27,500 years old and carved geometric designs in the wall. One such carving gives the image of the womb of Earth. Is this the birth-place for the spirits of the animals important to the sustenance of these ancient peoples?

The two distinct groups of people, separated by 9,000 years, who painted the caves lived during the periods of 'ice age,' when the world was much colder, and ice caps, several thousand feet thick, covered much of North America, Europe and Asia. With so much water trapped as ice, the seas were much lower and the Mediterranean was miles away from the entrance to Cosquer's cave. The remains of Scotch pine torches used by the people have been discovered. The artists who made these depictions were trained and highly skilled. It is believed the paintings were part of a ritual, magic or religious practice and intended to make something happen. All we can do is guess the significance, and marvel.

43) Imagine the Mediterranean Sea as a dry lake bed with vast salt accumulations, much larger than the Dead Sea or the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Travel in time several hundred million years back and you will arrive at the reality of this imagination. In 1970 two scientists, Bill Ryan and Ken Hsu, developed this explanation of the history of the vast Mediterranean Sea (the sea between the lands). Below the bottom of the Mediterranean sea floor they initially found a sound-reflective layer composed of a bed of gravel and hard rock. The gravel had accumulated at the base of a once active volcano, a mix of gypsum, black rocks and microscopic shells. They concluded that the whole blue Mediterranean Sea had once been a hot, dry, deep, salty, desert basin, the deepest and widest desert basin the world has ever known.

The Straits of Gibraltar is a narrow passage today and could have been completely obstructing the Atlantic Ocean from entrance into the Mediterranean zone. The Pillars of Hercules were sealed tight, and this dam was a mile high and twenty miles long and broad. The rains and the big rivers from the European land mass would not have been enough to keep the sea full, and if at any time full, it would have dried up within a few thousand years. Evaporation from the hot Sun beats all inputs easily. Today, the sea remains full of water because of huge currents from the Atlantic.

The desert floor was no single monotonous landscape but a whole varied region, crossed and marked by volcanic mountain ranges; there are low foothills sloping to flat valleys and deeper basins. Core samples taken from strategic locations proved that the geological structure of the ocean bottom was built up through eons of drying lakes, flooding and drying again. All these layers, like so many pages in a book, can be identified, telling the story of each geological zone. The deepest deposits exist below the Ionian sea, a thick layer of potassium chloride, the last chemical to dry in a standing salt lake existing there as it logically should.

The Nile River cut a gorge a mile and a half deep below the present level of sea as it found its way into the lowest area of the Mediterranean basin. The thick domes of salt that are uplifted on Sicily confirm the existence of this old, ancient ocean floor. The Sea is said to have filled suddenly, at least once, when an Earthquake shattered the rock barrier of Gibraltar, and a wall of ocean water a thousand feet deep cascaded into the mile deep depression to become the vast sea we know.

44) There are many features of Earth that have become famous because of their exceptional characteristics, unique composition, artistic structure, gravitational strangeness, magnificent coloration, and vast size; some of these are regarded as sacred by individuals and groups inclined to such designations. Example: Tulume Bena, now called Angel Falls (only discovered by Westerners in 1935! by Jimmy Angel) is a 3,212 feet descent (988 m.) from the north face of the massive Auyantepuy Mountain in the spectacular Canaima wilderness area of Venezuela. These falls were long revered by the Kamara Cota Indians who heard the haunting sounds of crying, believed to be the voices of gods, from the cliffs at night. The water below the falls, Caruna River, takes on a astonishing bright red color because of the minerals from the soil and roots of the surrounding plants--altogether a mystical place. Where is your mystical place? (see Decimus Stele: Folklore - Superstition, verse 21)

45) News Flash from Siberia: It's getting warmer.

"In the past two decades the average annual temperatures have climbed as much as 7 degrees F. Sea ice is 40% thinner and covers 6% less area than in 1980. . . On the Mackenzie River delta in Canada's Northwest Territories, Arctic-savvy Inuit inhabitants have watched with dismay as warming ground melted the traditional freezers they cut into the permafrost for food storage. Permafrost provides stiffening for the coastline in much of the north; where thawing has occurred, wave action has caused severe erosion. Some coastal Inuit villages are virtually marooned as the ground crumbles all around them. And as the ice retreats farther from the coast, Inuit hunters are finding that prey like walrus has moved out of reach of their boats." (Time, September 4, 2000)
As a very self-conscious, pseudo-science community is alarmed by each new sign of global warming, scientists see normal cycles and variations consistent with long term trends, but they also see reason for alarm and the need for immediate policy changes. We must learn to treat Earth with the respect we show our mothers, because indeed that is the case.

On to Tertius Stele