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LARMOR LECTURE - Why the Ancient Continents are special: a geological detective story

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Abstract: This talk will illustrate a common story in Earth Sciences: how pursuit of an interesting observation that we think is a clue to one phenomenon actually leads to a chain of other observations and investigations that solve a different problem altogether. In this case, asking questions about the depths of earthquakes in the continents triggered a series of other studies clarifying an age-old geological mystery: what is the origin of the interiors of the great continents, which are composed of generally flat, ancient rocks that have remained unaltered for billions of years, while mountains and oceans form on their margins? The answer probably has immense economic significance, but that is not why these studies originated, nor could that outcome have been foreseen: yet it is a common story in Earth Sciences and one that should cause those who think science can be directed towards desirable economic, social or innovative outcomes pause for thought. Much of our modern understanding of how the Earth works originated in this way.

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