When most people hear that one side is colder than the other, they often think it’s in reference to beds and the common complaint of couples whose temperatures clash and interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. However, when scientists from the University of Oslo say it, they’re referring to the planet Earth, where one side is becoming colder much faster than the other. Do we need planet-sized quilt? Would it help to move all the hot-blooded people to that side?
“Earth’s interior is cooling because its rate of heat loss exceeds its rate of internal heat production. Heat loss happens at the Earth’s surface and is highly variable, with thick continents providing strong insulation to Earth’s interior and thin seafloor allowing more rapid heat transfer.”
According to the study published in Geophysical Research Letters, the surface of the Earth is indeed like a bed and the continents are blankets which don’t quite cover everything. In particular, the oceans are the spots where feet would get cold in this planetary bed. While the heat generated by the Earth’s core emanates evenly, it doesn’t get to us in the same way. As explained in Popular Mechanics, the researchers at the University of Oslo wanted to know why, so they built a model dividing Earth into African and Pacific hemispheres, then dividing the surface into a grid by half degrees latitude and longitude. After feeding in the continental positions during the last 400 million years – including the supercontinent Pangea – they cranked out the temperature model. The results surprised them.
“We find that heat loss was on average 25% higher in the past than it is today, which implies more rapid overall cooling than expected. We also find that the Pacific side of the world has lost heat at a much faster rate than the African side. This is partly due to positioning of continental landmasses, including the supercontinent Pangea, on the African side for most of the past 400 million years. By contrast, the oceans on the Pacific side offered “poor insulation” that led to ∼50°C more cooling of the Pacific mantle compared to its African counterpart. The extra heat lost from the Pacific side may have been trapped there by Rodinia, an older, long‐lived supercontinent that covered the Pacific mantle about one billion years ago.”
The Pacific side lost its Rodinia ‘blanket’ about 600 million years ago, while Pangea began to break apart about 175 million years ago, providing heat longer on the African side of Earth. What does all of this mean for people sleeping (and living) on the Pacific side of the Earth bed? You know how being cold causes a lot of tossing and turning in a real bed?
“Was it covered by landmass at some point in the far distant past, keeping more heat inside? There are other possible explanations, but either way, the Pacific’s high tectonic activity today points to a heat disparity. The meltier the mantle, the more the plates can slide and slam together.”
Popular Mechanics points to this lack of a warm quilt as a (if not THE) reason for the increase in volcanic and earthquake activity along the Pacific rim. Unfortunately, there’s no electric blanket or separate-side-temperature-controlled sheets for an Earth-sized bed. And moving all of the hot-blooded people there won’t help – they’d drown before their side warmed up. The best bet is to move in the opposite direction away from the tectonic activity caused by the cold feet of the Pacific Ocean.