Professor Publishes Textbook On Planet’s Geologic History

SOCORRO, N.M. September 26, 2011– Geochemistry professor Dr. Kent Condie has published the second edition of his seminal textbook, Earth As An Evolving Planetary System, the first edition of which appeared in 2005.

 Dr. Kent Condie
 Author of Earth As An Evolving Planetary System
Condie is widely published in the Earth Sciences and of the 50 most-cited journal articles by New Mexico  Tech faculty, Condie is author or coauthor of seven.

Condie is among the scientists who pioneered the study of plate tectonics in the 1970s. His latest book incorporates the latest findings in the fields of geology, geochemistry and geophysics.

“This field is moving so fast, it’s moving exponentially,” said Condie, who joined the New Mexico Tech faculty in 1970. “It was a challenge to figure out what new things to include in the book.”

The 575-page second edition includes 150 pages of new material, features color throughout (unlike the first edition), and includes an interactive CD and Power Point slides for instructors.

Condie is widely known for his book on plate tectonics, Plate Tectonics and Crustal Evolution, first published in 1976.  Now in its fifth edition, the text is widely used in academia.

“Plate tectonic theory was being born when I worked on my PhD in the early 1960s at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA,” he said. “I’ve seen considerable evolution of the theory over the years.”

The latest version of the Earth System book includes new chapters on “Great Events in Earth History” and “Supercontinent Cycles.”

The “Great Events” chapter includes detailed examination of 4.5 billion year history of Earth, including the origin of the Moon and of life, the onset of plate tectonics, oxidation of Earth's atmosphere, and major mass extinction events.

“Since the first edition, we now know that the first oxygen was pumped into the atmosphere 2.35 billion years ago –derived from photosynthetic activity in the oceans,” he said. “And the research on episodicity in Earth history has benefited from breakthroughs in zircon dating with the uranium-lead method. The precision of this method has increased tremendously, and we can now make more detailed conclusions about Earth history and the evolution of continents and supercontinents.”

Condie said scientists now believe that continents started to form much earlier than previously believed. The majority of the planet’s continental crust was formed by 2.5 billion years ago and the total mass of the crust hasn’t increased significantly since then.

Dr. Kent Condie's latest edition

The study of the inner workings of the planet has advanced by leaps and bounds as the technology available to seismologists developed during the 20th century and over the past 10 years.

EarthScope – which was declared by Popular Science magazine to be the No. 1 most ambitions experiment in the world – is an example of a new technology opening up new vistas into the Earth's interior.

“Most people know about the extinction of the dinosaurs and the K/T asteroid impact some 65 million years ago,” he said. “But there have been many other mass extinctions, which we’re learning more about. Some were caused by asteroid impacts. The major extinction at 250 million years ago was probably caused by massive amounts of poisonous sulfur gases introduced into the atmosphere by eruption of the Siberian flood basalts.

Condie said the rate of recent discoveries and breakthroughs in technology have combined to create an exciting time for Earth scientists.

Research into planetary evolution has great implications for finding life on other planets.

“Any planet with the proper initial conditions and with water may develop life, although higher life forms may not always evolve,” he said. “We now understand, for instance, that without the Moon we wouldn’t have higher life forms on Earth.”

Condie uses the textbook for EES 468: Evolution of the Earth, which is required for most Earth and Environmental Science students. Each year, he updates the course with new findings in the field. He has received overwhelmingly positive feedback, perhaps most importantly a request for a second edition because the text has sold so well. The book is about $75 (and available on amazon.com), which Condie said is inexpensive for an upper-level text book.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech