Geophysicists around the world have come together to challenge the current understanding of when plate tectonics began on Earth. The traditional belief is that this crucial process started approximately 3 billion years ago, long after the formation of our planet. However, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents evidence that plate tectonics may have actually commenced over 4 billion years ago.

By examining zircons extracted from Jack Hills in Australia, researchers have gained valuable insights into Earth’s geological history. Zircons, considered the oldest material on our planet, offer clues about the processes that have shaped the Earth over billions of years. These crystals can form in different ways, either directly from magma or through the erosion and recycling of sedimentary rock. By studying the mica content in zircons, scientists can distinguish between two types: direct crystallization from magma and sedimentary rock absorption.

One of the key challenges in analyzing zircons is the need to study a large number of samples to draw meaningful conclusions. To address this issue, the research team deployed an innovative solution – an AI application. By training the AI on a dataset of S-type zircons, the researchers were able to automate the process of identifying and dating these ancient crystals. The AI revealed that a significant portion of the zircons from Jack Hills were S-type, dating back an average of 4.2 billion years.

Implications for Plate Tectonics

The findings from this study suggest a radical shift in our understanding of Earth’s early geological processes. The presence of S-type zircons dating back over 4 billion years implies that land may have already risen above the sea at that time. Furthermore, the AI analysis unveiled a cyclical pattern of changes in the zircons, indicating a dynamic history of continental shifts associated with the early stages of plate tectonics.

The research conducted by this international team of geophysicists highlights the importance of reevaluating established scientific paradigms. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies like AI, scientists are pushing the boundaries of knowledge and uncovering new insights into the complex history of our planet.


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