Earth as an Evolving Planetary System


  • Kent C. Condie, Professor of Geochemistry, Department of Earth & Environmental Science, New Mexico Tech, Socorro, NM, USA

Earth as an Evolving Planetary System, Second Edition, examines the various subsystems that play a role in the evolution of the Earth. These subsystems include such components as the crust, mantle, core, atmosphere, oceans, and life. The book contains 10 chapters that discuss the structure of the Earth and plate tectonics; the origin and evolution of the crust; the processes that leave tectonic imprints in rocks and modern processes responsible for these imprints; and the structure of the mantle and the core. The book also covers the Earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere; crustal and mantle evolution; the supercontinent cycle; great events in Earth history; and the Earth in comparison to other planets. This book is meant for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in Earth Sciences, with a basic knowledge of geology, biology, chemistry, and physics. It also may serve as a reference tool for specialists in the geologic sciences who want to keep abreast of scientific advances in this field.
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Structural geologists and professionals in related disciplines who want to look at the Earth in a broader perspective; advanced undergraduate and graduate students in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.


Book information

  • Published: August 2011
  • ISBN: 978-0-12-385227-4


"I have found Kent Condie’s book to be a masterpiece, very interesting and truly enjoyable to read. Upon completion of this book, the reader will likely realize how exciting and important the interdisciplinary work is that has lead scientists to understand most of the unknown features of our unique planet."--Pure and Applied Geophysics, August 2, 2013
"…a masterpiece, very interesting and truly enjoyable to read. Upon completion of this book, the reader will likely realize how exciting and important is the interdisciplinary work that has lead scientists to understand most of the unknown features of our unique planet."--Pure and Applied Geophysics, April 2013

Praise for the first edition:
"What we can find in this book is a snapshot of current knowledge regarding the Earth's components and how these consituent parts challenge Earth scientists to integrate their sub-disciplines into a holistic view of our home. The book is an excellent textbook for either an upper class undergraduate course or a graduate course in Earth history."--Eos (Bulletin of the American Geophysical Union), 2005
"Author Kent Condie synthesizes data from the fields of oceanography, geophysics, planetology, and geochemistry to examine the key topics and questions relating to the evolution of Earth's crust and mantle. This volume provides a substantial update to Condie's established text,Plate Tectonics and Crustal Evolution, Fourth Edition. It emphasizes the interactive nature of various components of the Earth system on timescales of tens to hundreds of millions of years, and how these interactions have affected the history of the atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere."--Linda Chappell, Information and Research Services, Lunar and Planetary Institute
"Condie (earth and environmental science, New Mexico Tech) synthesizes data and research from a wide variety of fields<-->geophysics, planetology, oceanography, paleoclimatology, geology<-->to present a systematic view of the Earth as a singular planetary system of animate and inanimate processes. This book started decades ago as an overview of plate-tectonics, and in the last two editions has been published under a new name as plate-tectonics became no longer the focus. Written for advanced undergraduate or graduate students in the Earth sciences, the majority of the text considers the geology and geochemistry of the inner Earth clear up to the mantle. The last few chapters consider Earth history over all, the origins and impact of life, and comparative planetary evolution throughout the solar-system. This second edition includes not only new seismic tomography data and high resolution U/Pb zircon dating, but also new chapters on the super-continent cycle and great events in Earth history. Academic Press is an imprint of Elsevier."--Reference and Research Book News, October 2012

Table of Contents


1. Earth Systems

Earth as a Planetary System

Structure of Earth

Plate Tectonics

Is the Earth Unique?

Interacting Earth Systems

Further Reading

2. The Crust


Seismic Crustal Structure

The Moho

Crustal Layers

Complexities in the Lower Continental Crust

Crustal Types

Oceanic Crust

Transitional Crust

Continental Crust

Continent Size

Heat Flow

Heat Flow Distribution

Heat Production and Heat Flow in the Continents

Age Dependence of Heat Flow

Exhumation and Cratonization

Unraveling Pressure-Temperature-Time Histories

Some Typical P-T-t Paths


Processes in the Continental Crust


The Role of Fluids and Crustal Melts

Crustal Composition


Seismic Wave Velocities

Seismic Reflections in the Lower Continental Crust

Sampling of Precambrian Shields

Use of Fine-Grained Detrital Sediments

Exhumed Crustal Blocks

Crustal Xenoliths

An Estimate of Crustal Composition

Crustal Provinces and Terranes

Crustal Province and Terrane Boundaries

The United Plates of America

Further Reading

3. Tectonic Settings


Ocean Ridges

Ocean Ridge Basalts


Tectonic Settings Related to Mantle Plumes

Large Igneous Provinces

Oceanic Plateaus and Aseismic Ridges

Rifted Continental Margins

Continental Flood Basalts

Hotspot Volcanic Islands

Giant Mafic Dyke Swarms

Continental Rifts

General Features

Rock Assemblages

Rift Development and Evolution

Cratons and Passive Margins

Arc Systems

Subduction-Related Rock Assemblages

Arc Processes

High-Pressure Metamorphism

Igneous Rocks

Compositional Variation of Arc Magmas


Three Types of Orogens

Orogenic Rock Assemblages

Tectonic Elements of Collisional Orogens


Foreland and Hinterland Basins

The Himalayas

Uncertain Tectonic Settings

Anorogenic Granites

Archean Greenstones

Mineral and Energy Deposits

Mineral Deposits

Energy Deposits

Plate Tectonics with Time

Further Reading

4. The Mantle


Seismic Structure of the Mantle

Upper Mantle

Lower Mantle

Mantle Upwellings and Geoid Anomalies

Temperature Distribution in the Mantle

The Lithosphere

Oceanic Lithosphere

Continental Lithosphere

The Low-Velocity Zone

The Transition Zone

The 410-km Discontinuity

The 520-km Discontinuity

The 660-km Discontinuity

The Lower Mantle

General Features

Descending Slabs

The D” Layer

Spin Transitions

Water in the Mantle

Plate Driving Forces

Mantle Plumes


Plume Characteristics

Tracking Plume Tails

Plume Sources

Mantle Geochemical Components

Identifying Mantle Components

Mixing Regimes in the Mantle


Convection in the Mantle

The Nature of Convection

Passive Ocean Ridges

Layered Convection Model

Toward a Convection Model for Earth

Further Reading

5. The Core


Core Temperature

The Inner Core

Anisotropy of the Inner Core

Inner Core Rotation

Composition of the Core

Age of the Core

Generation of Earth’s Magnetic Field

The Geodynamo

Fluid Motions in the Outer Core

Fueling the Geodynamo

How the Geodynamo Works

What Causes Magnetic Reversals?

Origin of the Core

Segregation of Iron in the Mantle

Siderophile Element Distribution in the Mantle

Growth and Evolution of the Core

What the Future Holds

Further Reading

6. Earth’s Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, and Biosphere

The Modern Atmosphere

The Primitive Atmosphere

The Post-Collision Atmosphere

Composition of the Early Atmosphere

Growth Rate of the Atmosphere

The Faint Young Sun Paradox

The Precambrian Atmosphere

The Carbon Cycle

The Carbon Isotope Record

General Features

The 2200-Ma Carbon Isotope Excursion

The Sulfur Isotope Record

Phanerozoic Atmospheric History

The Hydrosphere

Sea Level

The Early Oceans

Changes in the Composition of Seawater with Time

The Temperature of Seawater

Ocean Volume through Time

Euxinia in the Proterozoic Oceans


Paleoclimatic Indicators

Long-Term Paleoclimatic Driving Forces


Precambrian Climatic Regimes

Phanerozoic Climatic Regimes

The Biosphere

Appearance of Eukaryotes

Origin of Metazoans


Neoproterozoic Multicellular Organisms

The Cambrian Explosion

Evolution of Phanerozoic Life-Forms

Biological Benchmarks

Mass Extinctions

Episodic Distributions

Glaciation and Mass Extinction

Impact-Related Extinctions

The Triassic Extinction

Impact and a 580-Ma Extinction


Further Reading

7. Crustal and Mantle Evolution


The Hadean

Extinct Radioactivity

Hadean Zircons

Origin of the First Crust

Composition of the Primitive Crust

Earth’s Oldest Rocks

Crustal Origin

How Continents Grow

General Features

Growth by Mafic Underplating

Oceanic Plateaus and Continental Growth

Growth by Plate Collisions

Continental Growth Rates

The Role of Recycling

Juvenile Crust


Continental Growth in the Last 200 Ma

Toward a Continental Growth Model

The 2.4- to 2.2-Ga Crustal Age Gap

Secular Changes in the Continental Crust

Major Elements

Rare Earth and Related Elements

Nickel, Cobalt, and Chromium

Oceanic Plateaus as Starters for Archean Continents

Secular Changes in the Mantle

Tracking Mantle Geochemical Components into the Archean

Mantle Lithosphere Evolution

Earth’s Thermal History

Magma Oceans

How Hot Was the Archean Mantle?

Thermal Models

Further Reading

8. The Supercontinent Cycle


Supercontinent Reconstruction

Continental Collisions and the Assembly of Supercontinents

The First Supercontinent

Later Supercontinents

Nuna (Columbia)


Gondwana and Pangea

The Supercontinent Cycle

Episodic Ages

Patterns of Cyclicity

Relationship to Earth History

Mantle Superplume Events

Superplume Events

Mantle Plumes and Supercontinent Breakup

Episodic LIP Events

Slab Avalanches

Supercontinents, Superplumes, and the Carbon Cycle

Supercontinent Formation

Supercontinent Breakup

Mantle Superplume Events


Further Reading

9. Great Events in Earth History


Event 1: Origin of the Moon

How Rare Is the Earth-Moon System?

Constraints on Lunar Origin

Early Thermal History of the Moon

Event 2: Origin of Life

The Role of Impacts

The RNA World

Hydrothermal Vents

The First Life

Evidence of Early Life

The Origin of Photosynthesis

The Tree of Life

The First Fossils

Possibility of Extraterrestrial Life

Event 3: The Onset of Plate Tectonics

Plate Tectonic Indicators

Global Changes at the End of the Archean

How Did Plate Tectonics Begin: Thermal Constraints

When Did Plate Tectonics Begin?: The Ongoing Saga


Event 4: The Great Oxidation Event

Oxygen Controls in the Atmosphere

Geologic Indicators of Ancient Atmospheric Oxygen Levels

Mass-Independent Sulfur Isotope Fractionation

The Growth of Atmospheric Oxygen

Event 5: The Snowball Earth

The Observational Database

The Snowball Model

Event 6: Mass Extinction at the End of the Permian

General Features

Evidence for Impact

LIP Volcanism

Shallow-Water Anoxia

Catastrophic Methane Release


Event 7: The Cretaceous Superplume Event

Geologic Evidence

The Carbon Isotope and Trace Metal Record

Seeking a Cause

A Possible Superchron-Superplume Connection

Event 8: Mass Extinction at the end of the Cretaceous

General Features

Seeking a Cause

Chicxulub and the K/T Impact Site

Possibility of Multiple K/T Impacts


Further Reading

10. Comparative Planetary Evolution


Condensation and Accretion of the Planets

The Solar Nebula

Emergence of Planets

Homogeneous Accretion

Chemical Composition of the Earth and the Moon

Accretion of Earth

The First 700 Million Years

Members of the Solar System

The Planets

Satellites and Planetary Rings

Comets and Other Icy Bodies



Impact Chronology of the Inner Solar System

Volcanism in the Solar System

Planetary Crusts

Plate Tectonics

Mineral Evolution

Evolution of the Atmospheres of Earth, Venus, and Mars

The Continuously Habitable Zone

Comparative Planetary Evolution

Extrasolar Planets

Further Reading