Geology And Geophysics

Where Oil comes from

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"Where Oil comes from"
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A short story

There she was sailing on a calm beautiful Pacific Ocean, her graceful three hundred and fifty foot snow white hull contrasting with the blue of the ocean and sky. She was known as The Sea Explorer, a ship devoted to the science of marine biology.

The grace of her hull was slightly marred by the protrusion of crane arms used for diving equipment,

Aboard was a motley crew of experienced sailors and six of the most prominent marine biologists in the world. One was actually a Nobel Laureate - but he never talked about it, a modest man indeed.

Aboard also was the latest state of the art of diving equipment including a submersible vehicle that was in effect a submarine. Accompanying it was a crew of six specialists known affectionately as "jacks" for Jack of all trades. But be not fooled, these men were top flight technicians in the field of marine biology.

There were also three men on board who seemed to have no purpose, but no one asked any questions.

It was in the late afternoon that the Explorer quietly came to a halt at her destination a spot half way between Hawaii and South America, a place she had visited before and was returning to for more exploration and a project.

Although not discussed openly, there was a large black crate associated with the project. Only the Captain, the Jacks and the biologists knew its content.

On her former trip, the submersible had plumbed the ocean floor three thousand feet below the surface - and made a very interesting discovery.

There was life down there!

As it turned out, where normally at that depth there would not only be total darkness but no oxygen in the water - which would be deathly cold.
Thus, no life.

But there was life and it flourished, both fish and plant life. How could that be?

One reason was immediately apparent, there was a fissure in the floor that extended down to a depth where there was live magma from the earth's magma layer the same magma that spews from volcanoes.

As is common knowledge, the earth is mainly this terribly hot magma surrounding an inner core of what is called plasma. This is a different state of matter caused by the tremendous pressure of all the matter above. This basically is a ball of molten rock, metals and minerals capped by a relatively thin layer known as the mantle dirt and rock to you.

When the mantle is pierced by a fissure, the magma heats the water where life can survive. The area where this happens is not large but sufficient to maintain fish and certain plant life. This is what needed to be explored further. And that's why the Explorer, as she was affectionately called for short, was back.

Since it was late afternoon it was decided that all hands would relax with a few cocktails and get a fresh start in the morning.

However, the marine biologists, being dedicated scientists who eat and sleep their discipline, sat around and discussed the project.

"Well" said one elderly gentleman named Harrington who had a typical tousled head of hair and scruffy beard, "Do we really want to go on with this project?"

"Well of course. Think what we can learn about life that is not the same as found on the surface. The cosmologists and astronomers would certainly want to know how life could exist on planets different than ours. And we agreed that we need a colony larger than we found here to see how the present species can expand to a larger variety" This from a younger dapper individual who looked like a Harvard graduate, because he was.

The conversation then turned to a more technical vein where the lack of pigmentation of the life forms, and how did the fish compensate for having no eyes and how did living things that normally require oxygen live without it? - were discussed.

One could feel the tension mount in the cabin - tension and anticipation.

The tension mounted when the details of the project were discussed.

The consensus of opinion was that the colony had to be enlarged, and the only way to do that was to enlarge the fissure that was supplying the warm water that sustained life.

When the original discussions were had after the first voyage the question of the day was, how to enlarge the fissure and what size should it be?

After many proposals and some heated discussion it was finally decided that the fissure had to be very large, and the only way to do that was blow away the floor around a similar fissure and transport the life by the present fissure to inhabit the new environment. Such a fissure was found and now they had arrived at it.

The question that had been decided was, how to blow away the sea floor. The answer at first seemed drastic. It was agreed that ordinary explosives might not do the job. If not, look at all the time and money wasted. So the answer was decided to use a very small atomic bomb the smallest Uncle Sam could make.

The atomic energy consultants agreed this was no worse than the underground testing that had taken place earlier. In fact it was of less risk because the underwater site was about as far as one could get from civilization and it was three thousand feet down. Also, the water above would absorb the radioactive
material as the bubble floated three fifths of a mile to the surface.

All agreed.

And so here they were. The black box, it turned out, held the atomic device that was to be lowered, and the three men who seemingly had no purpose were atomic technicians in charge of the actual explosion. No chances were to be taken.

The next morning the task was begun. The submersible, its arms holding the bomb was placed in the water where it started its slow decent. This was about noon. It arrived at the bottom early evening.

By midnight it had returned and was placed in its birth.

The Explorer immediately got underway to remove itself from the location where the atomic bubble would surface. It was not certain just what the conditions would be and what would take place. No sense taking chances.

By morning the Explorer should be far enough away to be safe. Also, the direction it took is upwind from the detonation location. No point taking any chances.

By 0 ten hundred all was ready, The explosion was to be set off by a sound signal sent through the water, Sound travels better in water than in air so there should be no difficulties, none.

There wasn't.

Everything went off like clock work, as they say.


The bubble rose and was pretty well dissipated when it arrived at the surface.

This was immediately apparent to the Explorer as it had left a buoy near the scene with a TV camera on board and a few telemeter detection instruments.

A large "Hurrah" went up from the crew. A job well done.

The trouble was they could not see what was happening on the bottom.

The fissure not only cracked wider but a huge piece of the floor was missing and several acres of bare magma were exposed. Whereas in the underground tests the ground absorbed and dampened the explosion, the water, turning to superheated steam enhanced the power of the blast.

This had somewhat been anticipated by the experts but the consensus was that the ocean, being as large as it was, would eventually tame the exposed magma and form a crust through which heat would still warm the water for life to exist.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened. The huge pressure in the earth's interior generated a continuous blast of heat that the ocean could not quell.
After all the magma mass of the earth is much greater than the volume of the ocean.

And the magma continued to overheat the area.

But that was not the worst of it. The crack that widened at the explosion was wide enough so that the super heated steam that generated within, plus the pressure from the magma, worked to increase the crack which started running along the ocean floor. The experts would have done well to reckon with the magma pressure which is sufficient to blow the top off volcano mountains.

This magma pressure is much greater at the ocean depth because it is closer to earth's pressure center.

And so the crack continued on traveling along the floor, gaining in momentum, and going on and on.

Worse, other cracks sprang off from the original, going in all directions like the tributaries of a river. And from these cracks, sprang still others. The situation was getting out of hand.

By the end of two days, the cracks had spread all around the earth.

Soon there were so many of them that they interlaced the earth's crust such that there were no large areas of intact crust. The whole scene resembled a hard boiled egg that has had its shell squeezed so much that it was nothing but a myriad of tiny pieces surrounded by cracks.

Next, the pieces surrounded by cracks began to be blown away or be melted by the magma, leaving huge areas of magma exposed to the water.

As this process progressed it speeded up the demise of the remaining pieces - and soon all were gone. The mantle was completely gone and the earth was nothing but a livid ball of boiling hot magma.

Needless to say, long before that the surface was torn by storms, earthquakes, tsunamis four hundred feet high, huge winds, high heat and steam. Mankind was swept from the face of the earth.

The oceans were soon completely evaporated and turned into an atmosphere of steam.

The steam rose and searched for the stars. As it arrived at the coldness of
space, it condensed and started to fall back to earth as rain. But of course it
didn't get far before it was turned back into steam.

Nonetheless, heat from the magma was slowly being sent to outer space. And the hot magma radiated heat away so that someday, maybe in thousands of years, Mother Earth will one day have another mantle - and start life all over again.

In the meantime, the third planet from the sun is a bright red ball of fire, surrounded by a steam atmosphere, floating serenely in space.

Visitors from elsewhere viewed the planet, noting that it was different from similar planets in other solar systems and wondered why.

They also questioned the source of artificial satellites circling the planet.


Sept. 14, 2006

More about this author: Vertner Vergon

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