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Formation Of Land And Sea


Formation Of Land And Sea
Current scientific evidence suggests that the formation of liquid on Earth was, not surprisingly, a complex process. Indeed, when you consider the epic volcanic conditions of the young Earth through the Hadean eon, it’s difficult to imagine exactly how the planet developed to the extent where today 70 per cent of its surface is covered with water. The answer lies in a variety of contributory processes, though three can be highlighted as pivotal. The first of these was a drop in temperature throughout the late-Hadean and Archean eons.

This cooling caused outgassed volatile substances to form an atmosphere around the planet – see the opposite boxout for more details – with sufficient pressure for retaining liquids. This outgassing also transferred a large quantity of water that was trapped in the planet’s internal accreted material to the surface. Unlike previously, now pressurized and trapped by the developing atmosphere, it began to condense and settle on the surface rather than evaporate into space.
The second key liquid-generating process was the large-scale introduction of comets and water-rich meteorites to the Earth during its formation and the Late Heavy Bombardment period. These frequent impact events would cause the superheating and vaporisation of many trapped minerals, elements and ices, which then would have been adopted by the atmosphere, cooled over time, condensed and re-deposited as liquid on the surface.
The third major contributor was photo dissociation – which is the separation of substances through the energy of light. This process caused water vapour in the developing upper atmosphere to separate into molecular hydrogen and molecular oxygen, with the former escaping the planet’s influence. In turn, this led to an increase in the partial pressure of oxygen on the planet’s surface, which through its interactions with surface materials gradually elevated vapour pressure to a level where yet more water could form. The combined result of these processes – as well as others – was a slow buildup of liquid water in various depressions in Earth’s surface (such as craters left by impactors), which throughout the Hadean and Archean eons grew to vast sizes before merging. The presence of extensive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also caused the acidulation of these early oceans, with their acidity allowing them to erode parts of the surface crust and so increase their overall salt content. This erosion of Earth’s crustal layer also aided the distinction of cratons – stable parts of the planet’s continental lithosphere – which were the base for some of the first continental landmasses. With liquid on the surface, a developing atmosphere, warm but cooling crust and continents starting to materialise, by the mid-Archean (approximately 3.5 billion years ago) conditions were ripe for life, which we look at in depth over the next couple of pages.

Formation Of Land And Sea