Archive for May 11th, 2011

India’s Birthplace

May 11, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)


Geology is full of surprises. Who would have guessed, for example, that the undersea feature that marks the birthplace of the Indian subcontinent would be named after a brand of beer? But so it is.

India began its northward journey a mere 83 million years ago, when it was torn from its neighbours to the west by the opening of the Carlsberg Ridge: it was this event that launched the subcontinent on its solo voyage towards its present resting place. The ridge was named after the Danish brewing company that funded its exploration (this is true and can be googled!).

The opening of the Carlsberg Ridge was a very recent development: it came about well after the breaking up of Pangaea; well after the separation of South America and Africa and well into the age of dinosaurs. Of all the major sections of the earth’s continental crust, the Indian subcontinent was the latecomer. But once it began its journey, India moved quicker than any landmass ever had before; it was the hare among the tortoises of the earth’s surface. Halfway along, its tectonic plate attained the astonishing speed of sixteen centimetres per year – a remarkably rapid rate of advance, being almost eight times quicker than that of the Pacific plate today.

As it travelled the subcontinent wrote a detailed log of its journey and stored it in the archive of the ocean floor’s magnetic anomalies. This record tells us that at first India’s trajectory was in an easterly direction: in other words, when it first broke free of Africa and Madagascar, its northern prow was pointing in the direction of southern China. But then, 35 million years ago, another great fissure, the Chagos Fault, opened between India and Australia, and this in turn was torn apart by a series of transform faults. This stairway of cracks changed the course of India’s journey, turning it in a northwesterly direction, pointing it towards the soft underbelly of Asia’s pliable crust.

What would have happened if the subcontinent had kept traveling on its original course? There are so many possibilities…

In the meanwhile maybe someone should start agitating to rename the Carlsberg Ridge. I can see the headlines: ‘Beer Stains Birthplace of Mother India!’ ‘Furore in Lok Sabha!’

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