Quirks & Quarks

What would happen to Earth if there were no volcanoes?

Volcanoes release heat from the interior of the Earth, and even when they've been stopped temporarily, the heat eventually escapes
The Halema'uma'u crater, Kilauea, Hawaii (Hawaii Volcano Observatory, USGS)

This week's question comes from Adam Rudkins in Whitby, Ontario. He asks:

What would happen if the Earth had no volcanoes to release heat from the core?

The answer comes from Martyn Unsworth is a professor of geophysics at The University of Alberta in Edmonton.

He says there is a lot of heat coming out of the Earth, some from the formation of the planet and some from decay of radioactive elements.

That heat is carried to the surface by the flow of rocks inside the Earth. Volcanoes and plate tectonics are manifestations of this process. Although it is impossible to shut off volcanoes, the Earth has had periods of reduced vulcanism in the past.

When the supercontinent Pangaea formed 250 million years ago, it's size prevented volcanoes from forming in their usual number. As a result the heat increased beneath the supercontinent to the point where tectonic pressures forced Pangaea apart into the continents we see today.

So there's no way that Earth could, in the long term, shed its heat without volcanoes.


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