Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oreo Tectonics

Oreos are a great, tasty way to learn about geology. The tectonic plates under the Earth are like giant Oreos. This metaphor helps us understand mountains and how they form. Not only does the metaphor make you sweetly imagine, you can also experiment with it to get delicious results!

Before, however, we must understand how tectonic plates (or Oreos, if you prefer) move. The tectonic plates float on the mantle. The Earth’s mantle is molten rock and elements, so it flows around. When the top part of the mantle cools, it sinks to the bottom of the mantle only to be heated up and brought back to the top. While this is happening, the mantle is spinning, moving the tectonic plates on top. In these experiments, the Oreos are the tectonics plate and your hands will be used to move them.

How are mountains formed? The forming of mountains is called orogeny. Well, have you ever pushed two Oreos against each other? Most of the times, both of them crack and two of the halves will go up or down. This broken bit is the mountain. Now, raise one of the Oreos and put it on top of another Oreo. That is a mountain as well. If there is an Oreo in between two Oreos, and the Oreos on the outside are pushed towards each other, then the Oreo in the middle will crack and crumble into a mountain or mountain range. The final example of making a singular mountain with Oreos is when you break one Oreo in half, making a “fault” then pushing the two parts together and making a mountain.

In scientific terms, the plate tectonics are doing the same thing. They move around along the flow of the mantle, and eventually bump into each other. If at least one of the plate tectonics has enough momentum, it will crush and crack and break and bend. These broken parts become the mountains. The tectonic plates also can slip onto each other, just like in the above Oreo experiment. One tectonic plate will slide on top of another and that will form a mountain. A tectonic plate can form a crack or fault after extreme stress, and then the two parts of the tectonic plate, collide and form a mountain. These processes take millions of years. Experiments with Oreos, however, take only a matter of seconds. Mountains form because the plates are under great stress and release great amounts of energy.

If you take more than two Oreos and smash them together with varying force, all of the broken bits will be mountains, and you will have a mountain range or, an Oreo range. If you take two Oreos, then smash them together with equal force they won’t be able to rise on top of the other. The only solution for the Oreos is to break. They will both break, causing bits to become mountains. The final example of a mountain range occurs underwater. It is formed when you move two Oreos apart, the magma rises, represented by a third Oreo, then cools to form a mountain.

Scientists describe mountain ranges similarly. Plates may collide into each other and chunks will rise out of the ground. An example of two tectonic plates pressing against each other with equal force, and density would be the landmasses of India and Eurasia. They couldn’t submerge each other so the edges could only rise. This formed the Himalaya mountain range. The Sierra Nevada range was formed when there was a fault, and the fault plate was lifted. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge was formed by cooling magma and the separation of two tectonic plates. The Andes and Alps are Fold Mountains, where two plates crushed a third plate in between them, causing it to crush, crack, and fold.

A metaphor is a great way to explain science. The Oreo metaphor is an accurate metaphor that tackles plate tectonics in geology effectively. This metaphor gives a visual effect that helps us see and understand plate tectonics in a fun and easily understandable way. The Oreo metaphor is an epitome of plate tectonics. It is surely sweet and delicious.

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