The Sciences

Geology World Cup Quarterfinals!

Rocky Planet iconRocky PlanetBy Erik KlemettiJul 9, 2018 7:00 PM


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We're down to eight countries in the 2018 Geology World Cup. Cast your ballot here to see which make it to the final 4 standing. Game 1: Russia vs. Perú

The extent of the Siberian Traps in Russia. Wikimedia Commons. Few volcanic events on Earth have been as big as the Siberian Traps in Russia. These massive lava flows and explosive ash deposits happened ~252 million years ago and lasted for hundreds of thousands of years. The eruptions may have dumped over 1 million cubic kilometers of volcanic material on the surface! That would have released a huge amount of volcanic gases that may have been the cause of the end-Permian extinction that wiped about 96% of sea life and over 70% of life on land.

Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru. Wikimedia Commons. Did you know that the two largest glaciated areas in the tropics occur in Perú? The Quelccaya ice cap contains a record of ice that goes back over 5,000 years -- an integral piece of what we know about how the planet have changed during human civilization. As the ice cap melts due to climate change, many places around it that were normally very dry now have a source of water. That sounds good ... except as the ice cap retreats and eventually disappears, that source of water will be gone for good. Game 2: Switzerland vs. Colombia

The Matterhorn on the Swiss-Italian border. marchipatrick / Flickr. The Matterhorn in Switzerland is a geologic feature called a "klippe". This is a word that means it is a remnant of older rock that was pushed up over younger rock during a big tectonic collision. The rocks themselves that make up the Matterhorn originated in Africa, so the mountain itself is an immigrant to the Eurasian plate. Its distinctive shape was carved by glaciers that filled the Alps during the last Ice Age, leaving very steep sides when the ice retreated and the sides collapsed.

Aftermath of the Nevado del Ruiz lahars in 1985. USGS. One of the deadliest eruptions in the last 100 years occurred at Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia. Many people have heard about the volcanic mudflows (lahars) that swept down the sides of the volcano on November 13, 1985. The eruption itself that caused the mudflow was surprisingly small and other than the mudflow itself, little record of the blast remains. However, the heat from the eruption melted enough ice and snow from the summit to send muddy debris down to Armero, which was buried a few hours after the eruption. The final death toll was likely over 21,000 people, many of which could have been saved if people heeded the warnings of the impending flow. Game 3: Iran vs. Iceland

Zagros Mountains in Iran. Wikimedia Commons. Iran is criss-crossed with faults. They are the product of the slow collision the Arabian plate against the Eurasian plate has driven up the Zagros Mountains and built the Iranian plateau. With all that active tectonics, Iran is prone to large earthquakes and over the last 50 years, there have been at least 8 earthquakes that registered over M7 across the country, the most recent being the M7.3 that occurred on the Iran-Iraq border. That quake killed over 600 people.

Hydrothermal vents at Krafla in Iceland on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Wikimedia Commons. Pretty much the only place on Earth where an active mid-ocean ridge is exposed above the surface is Iceland. That's because normally the volcanism at the mid-ocean ridge creates dense basalt (relative to the continents), which form basins that fill with seawater. However, the fact that a hot-spot is coincidence with the Mid-Atlantic ridge means that there has been so much more volcanism in Iceland to actually create an island -- and a rather large one at that. The ridge cuts the island in half, so that the eastern shores are moving east and western shores moving west. The only sad thing is that once the Atlantic Ocean begins to close millions and millions of years from now, Iceland will likely be caught up in the collisions. Game 4: Mexico vs. Japan

Coronado Island in the Gulf of California in Mexico. Kirt Edblom / Flickr. Mexico is slowly splitting. The Gulf of California is an area of spreading, where the Pacific Plate and North American Plate are moving away from one another. So, Baja California is moving to the northwest away from the rest of Mexico. The Gulf of California is actually an extension of the fastest oceanic spreading on the planet along the East Pacific Rise and the spreading caused by the East Pacific Rise only formed the gulf about 5-10 million years ago.

Lake Toya in Japan, a volcanic caldera filled with water on Hokkaido. Wikimedia Commons. Japan is the prow of continents slowly destroying the Pacific Ocean basin. The Pacific and Philippine plates are both moving to the west relative to Eurasia, but that is a battle that they are both losing. This means that both plates subduct -- dive down under Eurasia back into the Earth's mantle -- and the big earthquakes and multitude of volcanoes in Japan are born from this. The future of Japan is less clear, but may eventually collide with mainland China in millions of years, adding another island chain onto the Eurasian landmass.

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