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Dynamic Globe

Because Lava Lamps Suck
  [vote for,

(Hat tip to xandram's Tear Apart the World idea for inspiration)

I've always been amazed by the idea of continental drift: that the Earth is constantly shifting imperceptibly beneath our feet and, indeed, has only been recognisable as the planet we know and love for the merest fraction of its history. In the blink of a geological eye my country may be slammed into mainland Europe, the snow-peaked Channel Mountains rising thousands of feet above what was once Boulogne. Or, perhaps, we will drift gently out into the Atlantic to one day join the North American continent. Who knows?

[edit] Of course this isn't possible since the UK is part of the Eurasian plate, but I like the imagery [/edit]

The idea:

To offer people a better understanding of the history of the Earth, I propose a dynamic globe that can play out (our best guess of) a simulation of the geological history of our changing planet. Beginning with Rodinia, the supercontinent that formed around 1.3 billion years before present, the globe would display the gradual fragmentation and reformation of Pangaea, Laurasia and Gondwana until we reach the present day, along with as much information as we can recontruct about the rising and falling of the great mountain ranges of prehistory.

The simulation could play at whatever speed you like: over the course of a few seconds to teach kids in the classroom, or over the course of days or weeks to provide an amusing diversion when you're bored ("I'm just going to check on the world, dear, to see how the Pyrenees are getting on"). The globe would offer a relaxing form of entertainment, sort of like a lava lamp with a more clearly defined purpose and less association with blacklights and drugs.

To entertain while maintaining its educational value, the simulation could run in two modes. The first would remain faithful to our knowledge of continental drift, displaying nothing but reality. The second could run a rather more fanciful simulation, embellished with occasional volcanic eruptions and the like (and perhaps even displaying our best guess as to the early history of the planet as the surface cooled into a solid crust.

The technology:

Off the top of my head, the dynamic globe could be implemented using three methods (to suit every budget):

1. Magnets and iron filings

A sort of lashed together Heath Robinson affair using a globe made up of multiple sections of magnetic material and covered in a layer of iron filings (which themselves are encased beneath a transparent layer of plastic to prevent them from getting everywhere when the magnets are switched off).

To generate the simulation of continental drift, sections of the globe are sequentially magnetised and demagnetised to attract the iron filings, allowing them to form continents and move smoothly across the surface of the globe. Unfortunately, the simulation run on this version of the globe would be limited to the display capabilities of little pieces of iron.

2. LCD screens [link]

The globe is covered in a number of small LCD screens, each playing a part of the sequence.

3. 3D holographic projection [link]

Expensive, difficult but geekily impressive.


Aside from recreating a simulation of historical continental drift, the globe could be programmed to play anything: a prediction of future continental movement, for instance, the effect of a large meteor impact, or environmental campaigners could use them to show the effect of rising sea levels in ever more harrowing and donation-inducing ways.

Naturally, the globe (or, at least, the version using LCD screens) would be capable of connecting to the Internet to download and display the latest meteorological data/updated geopolitical map data next time we decide to annex some third world hovel/topographical data to identify 'New Atlantis' when New Orleans finally vanishes beneath the waves.

In fact, any program could be loaded to the system - even on a religious theme: the earth remains dark for millions of years before suddenly springing to life, fully formed, 6000 years ago and remaining that way (with a brief interlude of flooding, during which all that can be seen is a tiny ark) until God becomes so annoyed with our sins that he crushes it all back into a fine dust with his massive, vengeful fists. This version, of course, would also include bonus footage of God burying all the fake dinosaur fossils to keep himself amused as he waits impatiently for the joys of Judgement Day.


There seems to be a widely held belief these days that we are destroying the earth with our nasty little ways: melting the ice caps, destroying the rainforests and so on. With the LCD screen option for my dynamic globe we could include a greater level of detail than simply the shifting continents: the expanding and receding ice caps, for instance, and the historical extent of rainforests (both of which we have a reasonably fair idea of). As well as offering an extra level of interest to the globe it may also help convince us of the fact that we are of little importance in the grand scheme of things: once the forests are all logged and the ice caps have melted and sent us to our watery graves the Earth will carry on just fine without us, as it did for billions of years before we bumbled along.

sambwiches, Sep 22 2008

Continental drift http://www.ucmp.ber...ology/tecall1_4.mov
A simulation of continental drift from Berkeley [sambwiches, Sep 22 2008]

Holo-globe http://www.youtube....IC4&feature=related
An holographic projection of a globe [sambwiches, Sep 22 2008]

LCD Globe http://www.youtube....watch?v=enAIjl6MNBg
A globe made up of LCD screens [sambwiches, Sep 22 2008]

Animated News Globe Animated_20News_20Globe
Make this an expansion pack for the Animated News Globe - possibly the cleverest and coolest product on the Halfbakery [hippo, Sep 22 2008]

Edible Globe http://www.kidskrea...om/edible_earth.htm
Recipe for edible globe to teach about the Earth's layers [sambwiches, Sep 24 2008]


       // the snow-peaked Channel Mountains rising thousands of feet above what was once Boulogne. //   

       That would be sweet. How much of France can you mash ?
8th of 7, Sep 22 2008

       I figure if we push hard enough we might make it all the way down to Paris, destroying the northern half of the satanic Peripherique and handily taking out every policeman who ever slapped me with a speeding ticket in northern France.
sambwiches, Sep 22 2008

       Nice, partic the iron filings bit. (And hello again sambwiches!)
calum, Sep 23 2008

       The BBC's "Earth Story", presented by Aubrey Manning showed a simulation of the convection plumes thought to drive continental drift, using a large tank of golden syrup, warmed from below.
I thought at the time I first saw the programme that an appropriate crust material would have been pancakes.
coprocephalous, Sep 23 2008

       "Pancake tectonics" - not only a useful experimental model, but a tasty dessert ......
8th of 7, Sep 23 2008

       Hey [calum] :) I've been wandering in the wilderness too long so I thought I'd return and annoy you all with my terrible ideas :) Hope you've been well.   

       "I thought at the time I first saw the programme that an appropriate crust material would have been pancakes"   

       Perfect :) On a similar subject, I've always imagined the cooling surface of the Earth in its early days as something resembling a marshmallow when you've held it over the fire too long (black skin, gooey goodness peeking through the cracks).
sambwiches, Sep 23 2008

       Make it out of peanut butter and graham crackers...then when the whole things goes to crap, you can eat it.
Blisterbob, Sep 23 2008

       Euch, peanut butter? I'd rather eat soil.   

       *Update* I've added a link to a simple recipe for an edible globe to teach kids about the Earth's layers - peppermint core, marshmallow mantle and chocolate crust. Tasty :)
sambwiches, Sep 23 2008

       + thanks for the hat tip, bun for the idea (though it's a bit complicated for me) and the great link of the Edible Globe! (which I can digest much better)
xandram, Sep 24 2008


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