November 18, 2011
In the fine tradition of cross-disciplinary investigation, Stephen Hurrell has put his finger on an answer to what is surely one of the most perplexing questions in palaeontology - why the dinosaurs were so huge, .. and why they died out, and links it to the most controversial of challenges to Earth science, namely the geological evidence that the Earth is getting bigger.
His exploration of the topic is a typical example of how someone new to a field and with often limited knowledge of it can, with incisive clarity, see fundamental connections that others cannot - or perhaps rather will not, because to do so creates ructions that cut right to the core of held beliefs of the field.
In this case he has brought his engineering experience to bear on the question (obvious perhaps to an engineer but somewhat hidden from the rest of us), how these large land animals managed to live, when, if they were in existence today and equipped with the same compositional bone strength, they could never have supported their own weight but would have been crushed by the force of gravity. Not only does he ask the fundamental question, but he answers it with logical simplicity that bears on other aspects of animal physiology : the force of gravity must have been less back then, than it is today, .. otherwise these animals would not, .. could not, .. have survived.
Demonstrating the reduction in size of insects, dinosaurs and land mammals of that time to become the denizens of today, he argues that gravity has had a controlling effect on the limiting size of animal species in general, because of the strength of materials involved in their anatomy. With a simple logical jump he posits that the much-reduced size of land animals today is linked to a corresponding increase in gravitational force, as animal species adjusted to an essential, first-order constraint imposed on their physiology by the Earth itself. As gravitational force is largely determined by the mass of the Earth, material must have been added to the planet in very substantial amounts since that earlier time.
On turning to the Earth sciences for evidence of this increase, he finds startling corroboration in the findings made on strictly geological grounds by numerous prominent geologists of earlier decades, for an event that had no precedent in geological history and continues even to the present day, namely the extrusion of the mantle to create the ocean floors that make up two thirds of the Earth's surface.
Thus he finds himself inadvertently on the front line of the controversy between Plate Tectonics and Earth expansion. On one hand, and unaware of such controversy, he has happened upon a piece of the jigsaw that supports an increasing size of the Earth. On the other hand, that same jigsaw piece carries evidence for increasing gravity : he has linked the creation of the ocean floors to the increasing size (and mass) of the planet.
Others' recognition of the creation of the ocean floors ("sea-floor spreading") as the core element of Plate Tectonics is recognised as probably the greatest achievement of the Earth sciences, one that has profound consequences for understanding continental displacement and the consequent evolution of life, .. and Stephen Hurrell has imbued this with an extra quality that virtually defines it as being indisputable evidence for Earth expansion. However, consensus views deny this connection, saying that the Earth cannot have increased in size, simply (and illogically) because there is no known way it can, and have reconciled the fact of this massive mantle blowout of the planet with an assumption that over decades has morphed into a belief - that the ocean floors thus created must be matched with their destruction, for otherwise the Earth would have increased in size, which is "known to be not true". However this 'knowledge' is conceded through its assumptive roots to be sourced squarely in the mire of failed comprehension, and to be no more than the belief of wishful thinking.
Thus Stephen Hurrell not only drives a nail in the coffin of Plate Tectonics, but poses a hard question to the physics community as well; precisely how is mass created? If mass and energy are opposite sides of the same material coin, .. if theory admits the process is reversible, .. and if mass can demonstrably be turned into energy by nuclear processes, what then is the dynamical interface, the 'criticallity' that must be crossed whereby nuclear processes can transmute energy into mass? In what form (and where) does that energy exist, and what is the process of its transformation?
These are not questions for the Earth sciences to address, but documenting the geological evidence for possible answers in all possible ways and on all scales, most certainly is. By his book, Stephen Hurrell has drawn together essential threads that point to this cosmological conundrum. The number one question that confronts physics is the connection between the electromagnetic force and particle-masses of the nucleus on one side of the material divide, and gravity on the other side of it, and in referencing it to life itself Stephen has touched on a connection that should appeal to both adults and students alike in being both quirky and exciting, showing yet again the often fascinating journeys that may be had on the byways that lead to understanding.
While necessarily not to the esoteric detail of academic rigour that befits a subject that overlaps with a number of different fields, it is well researched in the essential arguments. The book is a good read for layman and professional alike. For the layman it brings to life the main elements of a controversy of earlier decades that consensus science would rather not see resurrected - the geological evidence for an Earth that is getting bigger by the extents of the ocean floors, and Plate Tectonics which denies this. For the professional it is a window to aspects of geology they would do well to (re)consider in assessing the surety of their belief that the consensus model of Plate Tectonics has copyright on the geological story of the Earth. It most certainly does not.
Thank you Stephen Hurrell, for a most thought-provoking insight into one of the most fundamental aspects of palaeontology, and for resurrecting it from (for many) the grave of its mind-bogglingly boring taxonomic traditions.
The book is a well presented, well-bound hard copy on high-quality paper, designed to outlive consensus acceptance of its content.