Journey's end

Journey's end

Telly review

Journey's end

Seen anything earth-shaking on TV recently? No? Then the programme you must watch is Voyage of the Continents on Discovery Science. In this age of instant gratification, we drift from Monday to Sunday looking for something to grab our eyeballs. We believe ourselves to live in a time of intense change, unlike the past, when everything was the same old blah-blah. This programme on the geological history of the world shows us that we are so wrong.

What many people live and die without knowing is that the so-called firm, solid earth under our feet is constantly on the move. The outer layers of the earth are divided into the cooler and more rigid lithosphere that rides on a hotter and fluid-like asthenosphere. The lithosphere exists as separate and distinct tectonic plates that move, riding on the visco-elastic asthenosphere. This is the key principle of plate tectonics.

Plate tectonics theory is one of those theories that makes us want to strike our heads and say, “I could have said that.” When you look at the world map, it sticks out a mile: the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa look like they are pieces of a puzzle that have been moved apart by a giant baby, and Antarctica, Australia, India and Madagascar fit next to the tip of Southern Africa. This was first observed by cartographers, and one of them, Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), was the first person to imagine that the continents were joined together at one time before they drifted to their present positions. Bringing together previous theories, and adding the evidence of fossil plants, Alfred Wegener proposed the theory of Continental Drift in 1915.

Understanding the very earth we stand on can be a life-changing thing. The earth, which we hold to be the most solid entity in our ever-morphing lives, is actually an active creature that lives through earthquakes and breathes through volcanoes. That which is happening under the oceans is far more interesting than the stories, myths and legends that have been told to explain geological events in the past, in a ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ kind of scenario.

We live in an interesting age. In the past two decades, we have seen many devastating earthquakes, at least two major tsunamis, and a few volcanic eruptions. Instant communication methods have led to us being spectators in the arena of plate tectonics. The human aspect of these events is heartbreaking, but when we distance ourselves from it and concentrate on science, it becomes tremendously interesting.

Voyage of the Continents shows the latest research and gives up-to-date facts on the tectonic forces shaping the earth. Researchers take us to different parts of the world, where seas are shrinking, lakes are expanding, and the earth is squeezed into the most fantastic shapes imaginable. The visuals are astounding, breathtaking in their scope. Mountain peaks like the Matterhorn, which were at the bottom of the ocean once, lands like the African Rift Valley, where the earth simply moved apart, patterns that layers of earth form in caves, and the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea, which will disappear some day, are truly riveting to a lover of science.

Did you know that India is not really part of Asia? It is part of the Indo-Australian plate. It is actively colliding with the Eurasian plate, causing the Himalayas to grow 2.4 inches or 6.1 cm a year. This may not seem like much, but think: at this rate, in the last 26,000 years, the Himalayas have grown a mile vertically. This growth builds up pressures that threaten Nepal, Tibet, China, and our own Indo-Gangetic Plain, and foretells of The Big One, a massive earthquake that may release these pressures.

It is frankly amazing to see the history of the earth, learn of the experiments that help us understand it, and play fortune-teller to anticipate what may come next. If you want to feel part of the continuum called the earth, don’t miss Voyage of the Continents on Discovery Science, every Tuesday at 8 pm.