|Focus||Structure of the Earth|
|Topics||Cambrian Period, Crust, Geologic Time Scale, Mantle, Plate Tectonics, Types of Rock|
The Cambrian period is one of the most significant geological time periods. Lasting about 53 million years, it marked a dramatic burst of changes in life on Earth known as the Cambrian Explosion. It is from this period that the majority of the history of life on Earth, as documented by fossils, is found. Called the fossil record, the layering of these mineralized imprints of organisms preserved in sedementary rock have allowed geologists to build a historical record of plant and animal life on Earth.
The crust is the Earth's outermost layer and is divided into oceanic and continental types. Oceanic crust is 3 miles (5 km) to 6 miles (10 km) thick and is composed primarily of denser rock. Continental crust is 20 to 30 miles (30 to 50 km) thick and composed primarily of less dense rock. The crust makes up approximately one percent of the Earth's total volume.
The Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old and its history is divided into time periods based on the events that took place and the forms of life that were dominant during those periods. The largest graduation of time is the eon and each eon is subdivided into eras, eras into periods, periods into epochs, and epochs into ages.
Mantle makes up 84% of the Earth's volume and has an average thickness of approximately 1,800 miles (2,900 km). It is dense, hot, and primarily solid although in places it behaves more like a viscous fluid as the plates of the upper mantle and crust gradually "float" along its circumference.
The crust and the rigid lithosphere (upper mantle) is made up of approximately thirty separate plates. These plates more very slowly on the slightly more liquid mantle (asthenosphere) beneath them. This movement has resulted in continental drift which is the gradual movement of land masses across Earth's surface. Continental drift is a very slow process, occurring over hundreds of millions of years.
The Earth's rocks fall into three categories based on how they're formed. Igneous rock (granite, basalt, obsidian) is formed from the hardening of molten rock (lava), sedimentary rock (shale, sandstone, coal) is formed by the gradual despositing and cementing of rock and other debris, and metamorphic rock (marble, slate, quartzite) which is formed when existing rock is altered though pressure, temperature, or chemical processes.