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No. 54: Nov-Dec 1987

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What Heats The Earth

The currently popular model of the earth has its heat generated by the radioactive decay of uranium and other elements. Some of these decay reactions produce helium -- so-called radiogenic helium. But, as the following excerpt asserts, the amount of helium actually detected is way out of line with the measured heat flow.

"The present rate of mantle heat loss, however, is out of equilibrium with the rate of helium loss -- too large by about a factor of 20. Either radiogenic helium is accumulated in the mantle while heat escapes or current models for the bulk chemistry of Earth are in error and much of the terrestrial heat loss is nonradiogenic."

(Oxburgh, E. Ronald and O'Nions, R. Keith; "Helium Loss, Tectonics and the Terrestrial Heat Budget," Science, 237: 1583, 1987.)

Comment. Such data encourage the thought that a portion of the earth's heat may be generated electrically -- we live on a colossal, spherical, electrical hotplate! Who said science was dull?

From Science Frontiers #54, NOV-DEC 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987