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Structure of the Earth

Our planet is made up of three main layers: crust, mantle, and core. The structure of the earth can be compared to a boiled egg. The crust is thin and rigid. Beneath the oceans the crust is at it thinest extending only around 5km in depth. Although the depth of continental crusts varies it averages around 30km in depth. However, where large mountain ranges exist the crust can be as deep as 100km.

The thickness of the crust is said to be equivalent to a piece of paper forming the skin of a basketball!

Below the crust is the mantle, a dense, hot layer of semi-solid rock approximately 2,900 km thick. The mantle, which contains more iron, magnesium, and calcium than the crust, is hotter and denser because temperature and pressure inside the Earth increase with depth. As a comparison, the mantle might be thought of as the white of a boiled egg. At the centre of the Earth lies the core, which is nearly twice as dense as the mantle because its composition is metallic rather than stony. It is comprised of Iron (80%) and Nickel (20%). Unlike the yolk of an egg, however, the Earth’s core is actually made up of two parts: a 2,200 km-thick liquid outer core and a 1,250 km-thick solid inner core. As the Earth rotates, the liquid outer core spins. This creates the Earth’s magnetic field.

Not surprisingly, the Earth’s internal structure influences plate tectonics. The upper part of the mantle is cooler and more rigid than the deep mantle; in many ways, it behaves like the overlying crust. Together they form a rigid layer of rock called the lithosphere (from lithos, Greek for stone). The lithosphere tends to be thinnest under the oceans and in volcanically active continental areas, such as the Western United States. Averaging at least 80 km in thickness over much of the Earth, the lithosphere has been broken up into the moving plates that contain the world’s continents and oceans. Scientists believe that below the lithosphere is a relatively narrow, mobile zone in the mantle called the asthenosphere (from asthenes, Greek for weak). This zone is composed of hot, semi-solid material, which can soften and flow after being subjected to high temperature and pressure over geologic time. The rigid lithosphere is thought to “float” or move about on the slowly flowing asthenosphere.

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