Structure of the Earth

Geophysics, which studies the physics of the Earth, has led to many significant discoveries about the Earth and its make-up. Seismologic studies of the Earth have uncovered new information about the interior of the Earth that has helped to give credence to plate tectonic theory.

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Geophysical studies have revealed that the Earth has several distinct layers. Each of these layers has its own properties. The outermost layer of the Earth is the crust. This comprises the continents and ocean basins. The crust has a variable thickness, being 35-70 km thick in the continents and 5-10 km thick in the ocean basins. The crust is composed mainly of alumino-silicates.

The next layer is the mantle, which is composed mainly of ferro-magnesium silicates. It is about 2900 km thick, and is separated into the upper and lower mantle. This is where most of the internal heat of the Earth is located. Large convective cells in the mantle circulate heat and may drive plate tectonic processes.

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The last layer is the core, which is separated into the liquid outer core and the solid inner core. The outer core is 2300 km thick and the inner core is 1200 km thick. The outer core is composed mainly of a nickel-iron alloy, while the inner core is almost entirely composed of iron. Earth's magnetic field is believed to be controlled by the liquid outer core.

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The Earth is separated into layers based on mechanical properties in addition to composition. The topmost layer is the lithosphere, which is comprised of the crust and solid portion of the upper mantle. The lithosphere is divided into many plates that move in relation to each other due to tectonic forces. The lithosphere essentially floats atop a semi-liquid layer known as the asthenosphere. This layer allows the solid lithosphere to move around since the asthenosphere is much weaker than the lithosphere.

Structure of the Earth History of plate tectonics Plates Plate boundaries Forces in the Earth Faults Hypercard Resources

Plate tectonics Activities


Last modified on 8/14/98 by Maggi Glasscoe (