Professor Publishes Third Edition Of Earth Science Text

SOCORRO, N.M. December 8, 2015 – Geochemistry professor emeritus Dr. Kent Condie has published the third edition of his seminal textbook, 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. He is also often the most cited scientist at New Mexico Tech as reported by ResearchGate. He is among the scientists who pioneered the study of plate tectonics in the 1970s, and the latest edition of his book incorporates new findings in the fields of geology, geochemistry and geophysics. 


Dr. Kent Condie


The new edition also includes about a dozen new sections or passages, with a handful he considers exciting. Condie said he constantly works on keeping the material in the book up to date. The first edition was published in 2005 and the second edition in 2011. The third edition includes 150 pages of new material, features color throughout (unlike the first edition), and includes Power Point slides for instructors.

“The field of Earth and planetary history is evolving rapidly. If I let the book go any longer than 5 years, it’d be out of date. 30 percent of the book is a rewrite,” said Condie,” who joined the New Mexico Tech faculty in 1970.

Condie is also widely known for his earlier book on plate tectonics, Plate Tectonics and Crustal Evolution, first published in 1976.  Now in its fourth edition, the text is still used in academia and commonly cited. Earth As An Evolving Planetary System is used by more than two dozen Earth Science programs in the United States and Europe, and has seen increased international interest, particularly in China.  

EarthScope – which was declared by Popular Science magazine to be the No. 1 most ambitious experiment in the world – is an example of a new technology opening up new vistas into the Earth’s interior and some of the results from Earthscope are included in the new edition.

Condie has also expanded the section on the production of continental crust, which is his research area. He’s also added a section on the Hadean era – the time before 4 billion years ago – which is a relatively new field of study.

“Only a few zircons are preserved in clastic sediments have been found from that long ago, so much of what we learn about that time period comes from models or other planetary samples,” he said. “We can constrain events in the first 30 million years of planetary history from short-lived radiogenic isotopes, which are now extinct, but have left a record of their existence in their daughter isotopes.”

Condie has also expanded the discussion on the eight known mass extinctions that have occurred in the past 500 million years.

“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.”

In particular, he has added material about the Permian extinction, which was about 250 million years ago.

“I’ve really updated that a lot,” he said. “The most probable cause is the eruption of the Siberian flood basalts that pumped poisonous gasses into the atmosphere, but that’s probably not the whole story. It doesn’t explain the marine extinctions so well. This is an area of really exciting research, and AGU and GSA conferences often have sessions on mass extinctions.

Condie also writes about the beginning of plate tectonic activity on Earth, yet another area of active research.

“Plate tectonic theory was being born when I worked on my Ph.D. in the early 1960s at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla,” he said. “I’ve seen considerable evolution of the theory over the years. At one point, the Earth was a ‘stagnant lid.’ How did the planet evolve to plate tectonics and when did it happen are active areas of discussion and controversy.”

 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. There has been a tremendous number of extrasolar planets discovered since the last publication. In the second edition, I had a paragraph about exoplanets, whereas in this edition, I have several pages on the subject.”

Condie uses the Earth System 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 is teaching the course again in the spring 2016 semester, just in time for the new textbook to be available.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech