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Rubik's Earth

Grind continental plates and pour lubricant on them
  (+19, -2)(+19, -2)
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The current boundaries of tectonic plates are completely unsatisfactory. On the one hand, the plates will insist on drifting willy-nilly. On the other hand, because they are irregular in shape, any movement of one relative to the other leads to lots of grinding, volcaning, subducting and general orogeny. The last thing you want in your neighbourhood is a bloody great mountain range popping up.

So. There are two things we need to do, probably simultaneously. First, we need to take a sharp implement and slice the crust up into neat segments. If you've ever seen the spherical versions of a Rubik's cube, that's the effect we're after - nice, regular tectonic plates.

Of course, things will still be messed up because the old plate boundaries would still exist, running through and across our newly-cut plates. This is where the second step comes in. We need to glue together the edges of the old, messy plate boundaries. The ways to do this are too obvious and simple to need describing here - suffice to say that a system of transverse alps would be an elementary solution.

In a short space of time, the old plate boundaries - stitched firmly together - would weld themselves shut permanently. The convective currents in the Earth's mantle will still be trying to shuffle the crust around, but this movement can now be accommodated without fuss or overt geology, since the new plate arrangement will allow smooth sliding.

Obviously, it would be silly to stop here. Convective flow (as of, say, a mantle) is quite susceptible to disruption, and hence to control. It wouldn't take much to harness the convective forces of the mantle, and therefore steer the newly- geometrized plates around.

Controlled Convective Tectonic Navigation would be a slow process. However, if you do the calculations it makes a lot of sense. Airplanes carry minute loads very quickly, and are economical. Trains carry larger loads fairly quickly, and are economical. Supertankers carry very large loads slowly, and are economical. A system for moving entire continents around could afford to be very slow indeed.

Traffic control for CCTN would need to be well thought out. For example, if you want to move northeast Africa (which will occupy a substantial part of one of the new plates) to the opposite side of the equator, you'd have to go through a fairly complex series of moves (northern hemisphere left quarter turn; eastern hemisphere half-turn anticlockwise; both polar segments half-turn east; northern hemisphere right quarter turn- the Greenwich Meridian would, of course, be fixed by convention). It's even more complicated if you want to avoid disturbing the other tectonic segments. However, the great thing about CCTN is that you need to think carefully, not fast.

Mathematically inclined geologists might even compete to see, for example, who could rearrange the continents into a reconstruction of Pangea in the fewest moves; or who could get Norway inverted without disturbing the other land masses.

MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 16 2007

Rubik's World http://www.amazon.c...World/dp/B000FBPQ44
"Now you can really have the whole world in your hands!" [Ander, Oct 18 2007]

[link]






       Brilliant! Now if you can figure out a similarly convenient way to color each segment a startling shade of neon, say with a giant adhesive square that refuses to stay fixed for more than three weeks of use, we'll all be in business.
PandaFoot, Oct 17 2007
  

       Taking into account the human element, someone is bound to make a mistake and northeast africa might remain separated from northern africa for millions of years.   

       I think you should include the ability to disconnect multiple tectonic plate sections, rotate them in space, and then snap them back together in the correct locations. This way any mistakes made can be corrected. Of course this risks cooling the molten core of the planet, but that can simply be ejected into space, formed into bars, cooled, and re-inserted as section axles. Oil found during the process can serve as lubricant, and additionally can fund the process.
mylodon, Oct 17 2007
  

       //someone is bound to make a mistake and northeast africa might remain separated from northern africa for millions of years.// This is likely - in fact, almost inevitable. On the other hand, Australia has been disconnected from Europe for tens of millions of years, and it hasn't troubled either party too much. I like the concept of removing and replacing segments, but people would probably object to this if they happened to live (or be vacationing in) the segment in question.   

       On the whole, I think I'd stick with the existing model, whereby all segments remain attached. I suppose, at a pinch, that we could simplify things by having an "empty" segment. This would basically be a continental land mass made of aerogel (so, I suppose, a continental aerogel mass) which was easier to lift out and replace. When removed, this would leave you with a spare hole, and the other pieces could be slid into it much like those little square puzzles (but spherical, and of course larger, and of course without the ability to form an image of Homer Simpson by putting the pieces in the correct order).   

       But on balance, I think the Rubik configuration would be most satisfying.
MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 17 2007
  

       Incidentally, I've done some numbers on the cost effectiveness of Continental Convective Tectonic Navigation. It all comes down to a question of payload x speed. For aircraft, payload is on the order of 10 tons, and speed is, say, 500mph, hence payload x speed is 5000t.mph. For a goods train, I'm guessing payload is 1000 tons (thinking, 100 cars of iron ore), and speed is, say 50mph, giving 50,000t.mph. For a big oil tanker, I'm guessing 500,000 tons at 30mph = 15,000,000t.mph. For a continental segment, payload is probably not a limiting factor, but let's suppose that we wanted to move 10^18 tons of stuff (I'm guesstimating the total tonnage of goods moved between two continents in the course of a million years), at an average speed of 2 inches per year (3 x 10^-9mph). This translates into 3x10^9t.mph, or 200 times more efficient than an oil tanker.
MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 17 2007
  

       And if you slice the top layer of crust from the lower section, you could slide the Middle East over and then transport all the oil directly to America (or rather manoeuvre America over the oil).
marklar, Oct 17 2007
  

       [Maxwell] Your calculation is basically just work minus friction and such, not efficiency. It would take 200 oil tankers to move 10^18 tons 2 inches/year. There are about 3500 oil tanker in use now, which could move 10^18 tons about 17.5 inches/year. It would take them over 3600 years to move one mile, which would require over 1.1 Tl of fuel, I think. That speed could maybe help protect cities from volnanic eruptions and such, but there would probably be much more efficient ways to do that.
apocalyps956, Oct 17 2007
  

       The mention of aerogel brings up a larger issue which will become unavoidable.   

       For instance, if an empty aerogel section is made and used instead of, for instance, England, the mass distribution on that longitude will be vastly changed, and effectively the earth will start to wobble in space. This will drastically alter all traditional constellation observation, specifically the astrological calendar. Human personalities, responding to the shift in astrological signs, will distort and wobble in relation to the new movements of the earth itself. Relationships will crumble, alliances forming and falling and -- in the end -- societal meltdown.   

       This will happen even if aerogel empy spaces are not used, as the earth maintains its current axis by having a bulge around the middle. If Ecuador were replaced with Antarctica, a similar scenario would follow.
mylodon, Oct 17 2007
  

       [mylo] Good point, and one which I hadn't considered. I think we'd be OK as long as the aerogel section were quite thick (say, between 50 and 200 Everest Units). If this were the case, most of its mass would be further from the axis of rotation than the rest of the crust, and this would compensate for its reduced total mass.   

       Having an entire crustal segment made of a 100EU-thick slab of aerogel would have other advantages. For example, spacecraft could just tunnel their way up through it, wormwise, and emerge on the upper surface at orbital height.
MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 17 2007
  

       Oooh oooh oooh! I just had a thought. It wouldn't take a good advertising exective long to work out that, by rearranging the sectors carrying most of Africa, the left part of Australia, and India/Burma/Bay of Bengal - you can make a pretty good representation of the Apple logo. Now that would cost.
MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 17 2007
  

       // Africa, the left part of Australia, and India/Burma/Bay of Bengal // [MaxwellBuchanan] You should use New York, shirley.
marklar, Oct 18 2007
  

       Nice idea but I see one great problem, to wit, //The current boundaries of tectonic plates are completely unsatisfactory.//. No they aren't. From where I'm sitting, in a volcano and earthquake free area, I am thoroughly satisfied with the current boundaries. I can be entertained by volcanoes, earthquakes and other geological disasters from the safety of my own front room, via TV. In fact, they're the only interesting programmes on TV. Perhaps we could re-visit this idea when conditions change?
DrBob, Oct 18 2007
  

       Wow, it has REALLY been a long time since I smoked weed.
Noexit, Oct 18 2007
  

       // I am thoroughly satisfied with the current boundaries.// Well, that's the kind of attitude that kept mankind doing arithmetic on horses and using Roman numerals to plough the fields with.
MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 18 2007
  

       Now, we could get some highly skilled lullaballoon captains to fly around with those high strength space tethers attached to the tectonic plates and put an extremely slow torque-couple on the new 'Rubiks' Earth to perform the first geostationary tug-pull to get the us to China and back home again so that we could brag about traveling the entire world over in the period of a single lifetime. Oh yes, we must get started on building a giant exacto-knife right away, perhaps we could sharpen the Mars potato-moon by sending our disposable 1 way amputatee Earth prisoners over there on a sacrificial science mission with giant nail files.
quantum_flux, Oct 23 2007
  

       I object. Amputee earth prisoners are always two-way, especially if you use an exacto blade.
mylodon, Oct 23 2007
  

       The temptation to just peel the stickers off and stick them back on in the arrangement you're trying to get to would be too great...
hippo, Oct 23 2007
  

       //We need to glue together the edges of the old, messy plate boundaries. The ways to do this are too obvious and simple to need describing here// - Bun   

       //Obviously, it would be silly to stop here.// - Another   

       //It wouldn't take much to harness the convective forces of the mantle// - And another
wagster, Oct 23 2007
  

       [Wagster] Thank you!   

       [Hippo] I think cheating like that would be hard to conceal.   

       [Quantum Flux] No disrespect, but I think space-tugs would be a rather inelegant solution. I've done extensive experiments involving boiling soup, which is widely recognised as a good analogue of the mantle. Croutons make quite servicable continents until they go soggy. The application of little salt, sugar or even a small amount of cold water is sufficient to switch the pattern of convection. Finding good analogues for salt, sugar and water on a geologic scale is more problematic, but should be soluble.
MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 24 2007
  

       ffffiiiissshhh bbbooonnneee!!!!!!!!!
Quantum_Penguin, Aug 16 2008
  

       Amusing choice of category.
normzone, Aug 16 2008
  

       Really good idea [+], and the last paragraph is the icing on the cake.   

       It's sort of like those slide-the-squares-around puzzles, since the action of the plates wouldn't really be the same as on a Rubik's-type puzzle.
bnip, Aug 17 2008
  
      
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