Weaving a New Mantle

Moving at a glacial pace is how we’ve always described something so sluggish as to be practically immobile. Geological time is what we sometimes say when we talk about things that take forever to occur, at least when using the yardstick of human life spans.

The Earth’s mantle, that layer between the outer core of the planet and the surface, is mostly solid and we like to think of it that way.

But in what we consider geological time, it moves like a thick liquid. As it turns out, though, it moves a little more quickly than that, especially when a tectonic plate is sinking or rising. Sometimes at speeds 20-30 times faster than expected.

Embroidering the Earth's Mantle Artist: Remedios Varo

Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle (1961)
Artist: Remedios Varo

And then there’s the news that the ice of the Antarctic is melting faster than expected, great chunks of it breaking off and raising the sea level like to many ice cubes added to a glass of water.

What’s happening to the land that’s been beneath the ice all this time? What happens when the weight of eons is lifted and dispersed? The land rises.

However, the land is rising at a pace that is not very glacial. The land ‘rebound’ was expected to move in geological time. Instead, according to a recent study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters,  it’s moving so quickly that researchers can chart its rise of over 15 mm (0.59 in.) per year using GPS. In some areas, the uplift could reach 47 mm (1.85 in.).

The cause is thought to be temperature or chemical changes in the composition to the Earth’s mantle, making it ‘runnier’ beneath the Antarctic than elsewhere.

The climate change we fashion in human time nudges the hand of the planetary clock to speeds we might just be able to see with the human eye.