Earth, Our Environment - Class Notes
James Hutton and Deep Time

From Newton, Halley, Herschel, and others, the realm of application of the developing laws of physics was extended deep into Universe. However, even Newton, the first to make the break from entrenched ideas did not believe that the laws of physics were constant for all time.

At the time, people thought the Earth was rather young, and in the process of "running down". The observation of sedimentary rocks was explained (not too well) by references to a Great Flood.

That task of extending "Universality" back in time fell to Dr. James Hutton, a physician and successful farmer who visited and studied many geologic outcroppings. From his studies of rocks, Hutton concluded, and in 1785 reported, that the Earth was much older than people had assumed. In fact, Hutton described an earth model with "no vestige of a beginning - no prospect of an end".

Hutton imagined Earth in a continuous cycle of uplift and erosion, a hypothesis that qualitatively explained the observations he made at rock outcroppings.



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Prepared by: Charles J. Ammon
January 1997