The Earth Has a Pulse: 27.5-Million-Year Cycle of Geological Activity Discovered

ANIMATION

Analysis of 260 million years of major geological events finds recurring clusters 27.5 million years apart.

Geologic activity on Earth appears to follow a 27.5-million-year cycle, giving the planet a “pulse,” according to a new study published in the journal Geoscience Frontiers.

“Many geologists believe that geological events are random over time. But our study provides statistical evidence for a common cycle, suggesting that these geologic events are correlated and not random,” said Michael Rampino, a geologist and professor in New York University’s Department of Biology, as well as the study’s lead author.

Over the past five decades, researchers have proposed cycles of major geological events — including volcanic activity and mass extinctions on land and sea — ranging from roughly 26 to 36 million years. But early work on these correlations in the geological record was hampered by limitations in the age-dating of geologic events, which prevented scientists from conducting quantitative investigations.

However, there have been significant improvements in radio-isotopic dating techniques and changes in the geologic timescale, leading to new data on the timing of past events. Using the latest age-dating data available, Rampino and his colleagues compiled updated records of major geological events over the last 260 million years and conducted new analyses.

The team analyzed the ages of 89 well-dated major geological events of the last 260 million years. These events include marine and land extinctions, major volcanic outpourings of lava called flood-basalt eruptions, events when oceans were depleted of oxygen, sea-level fluctuations, and changes or reorganization in the Earth’s tectonic plates.

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