Evolution of the continents
Hoffman, Paul F. School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
- Constructive processes
- Destructive processes
- Continents and Earth history
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The process that led to the formation of the continents. The Earth's crust is distinctively bimodal in thickness. Oceanic crust is normally about 4 mi (7 km) thick, varying mainly with the temperature of the mantle beneath the sea-floor spreading ridges when the crust was formed. In contrast, the typical 22–25-mi (35–40-km) thickness of continental crust is controlled ultimately—through the agents of erosion, sedimentation, and isostatic adjustment—by sea level. Oceanic crust is formed at spreading ridges, continental crust at subduction zones. Both are recycled to the mantle, but oceanic crust, being less buoyant, is recycled about 30 times faster than continental crust. Consequently, continents, having a mean age of almost 2 billion years and a maximum age of 4 billion years, provide the only directly accessible record spanning most of Earth history. They are, however, structurally more complex than ocean basins because of their great antiquity and weak rheology. See also: Earth crust; Mid-Oceanic Ridge
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