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Four Revolutions in the Earth SciencesFrom Heresy to Truth$
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James Powell

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231164481

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231164481.001.0001

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The Abyss of Time

The Abyss of Time

(p.3) The Abyss of Time
Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences

James Lawrence Powell

Columbia University Press

This chapter traces the roots of the idea of deep time, one of the most fundamental and surprising discoveries about the Earth during the twentieth century. In September 1846, William Thomson, then age twenty-two, applied for the chair in natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow. Before an appointment could become official, the applicant had to write and deliver, in Latin, an essay assigned by the faculty. Thomson's topic was De caloris distributione per terrae corpus: “The distribution of heat within the Earth.” The title echoed that of Joseph Fourier's book on heat flow, The Analytical Theory of Heat. The implications of Fourier's mathematics, first encountered by Thomson at age sixteen, would occupy him for sixty-eight years, until his death in 1907. By then he was known as Lord Kelvin. This chapter also looks at the emergence of geology as a true science and the rise of uniformitarianism by focusing on the works of James Hutton and Charles Lyell.

Keywords:   deep time, Earth, William Thomson, Joseph Fourier, heat flow, mathematics, geology, uniformitarianism, James Hutton, Charles Lyell

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