March 03, 2005


One neat thing about studying simulations is that you get to (have to) learn about fields well outside your specialty. It also means that when I don't have anything in particular to tell you about simulations, I get to talk about anything I want. Today, it's plate tectonics.

I mentioned earlier that I only knew of one plate tectonics simulation algorithm out there. I forgot about SimEarth. There are also lots of reconstructions of the past plate tectonics of Earth out there, but none that are clearly described for the average coder, and none (that I've found) that illustrate the principles of plate tectonics using randomly generated initial conditions.

So I did a little digging with Google to find out about plate tectonics for myself. From the web pages I found, I've got the impression that plate tectonics vastly simplifies geology, but that the details haven't been worked out yet. It's as though Copernicus has already pointed out that it's much simpler to think of the planets as orbiting the sun, but Kepler and Newton haven't yet shown that they orbit in ellipses and obey F=Gm1m2/d2. We know that the surface of the earth is divided into plates and the directions and speeds at which they are currently moving, but we don't know how faults move relative to one another, how or why new faults are created and old ones destroyed, and so on. (Or if someone does, it hasn't filtered out to the web yet.)

Here's what we do know: the location of Earth's faults 1, earthquakes are almost all generated along faults 2, and there are three different types of faults that behave differently.

More tomorrow!


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