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Page 18


Spring 2011 • BAKKEN BREAKOUT


Millions of years and millions of tons of overburden heated and compressed ancient plant matter into today's lignite resource.


– called seeps. The La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles are probably the best example in the United States.


Buried sunshine As hydrocarbons, coal, oil and natural gas share a common ancestor – sunshine. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants use sunshine to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into organic compounds. Those plants, and the micro-organisms that consume them, must die, accumulate and be protected for eons from the destructive effects of the earth’s atmosphere so that coal, oil and natural gas can begin to take form. ■


In 1972, Scientific American published “Continents Adrift,” a book that fundamentally changed the way scientists interpret earth history. Essentially, the book compiled overwhelming evidence that the earth’s surface is not stationary, but that the continents are being rafted atop rocks spreading away from mid-ocean ridges. The earth’s core provides the heat that fuels this process, which is called plate tectonics. It resembles the rolling nature of a pot of water boiling on stovetop.


As a result, continents traveling a few inches a year eventually collide with and slide beside one another. It explains why the east coast of South America fits the west


coast of Africa like a glove – and why some of the rock units of Scotland exactly match those of the Canadian Maritime provinces. It also helps explain why some native plants and animals in Europe have close relatives in North America, why isolated Australia has so many marsupial species, why we find oil in sub-polar Alaska and forest fossils in Antarctica.


The plate tectonics process also accounts for the world’s major mountain ranges and its distribution of volcanoes and earthquakes including the deadly temblor that recently struck Japan.


Photo courtesy of Lignite Energy Council


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