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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2012 Jul;1260:87-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06276.x. Epub 2012 Jan 18.

Plate tectonics and planetary habitability: current status and future challenges.

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Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.


Plate tectonics is one of the major factors affecting the potential habitability of a terrestrial planet. The physics of plate tectonics is, however, still far from being complete, leading to considerable uncertainty when discussing planetary habitability. Here, I summarize recent developments on the evolution of plate tectonics on Earth, which suggest a radically new view on Earth dynamics: convection in the mantle has been speeding up despite its secular cooling, and the operation of plate tectonics has been facilitated throughout Earth's history by the gradual subduction of water into an initially dry mantle. The role of plate tectonics in planetary habitability through its influence on atmospheric evolution is still difficult to quantify, and, to this end, it will be vital to better understand a coupled core-mantle-atmosphere system in the context of solar system evolution.

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