Regular friends of the decanter will know that one of the subjects to which the butterfly-like braim of Robbo sometimes flits is that of geology, specifically tectonic geology.  So you can readily imagine my delight in reading this article from the Beeb concerning a series of severe but largely ignored earthquakes off the coast of Sumatra last April.  (They garnered little or no attention in the press because they did not generate any noticeable tsunamis.)   Scientists have now posited that they represent the forming of a new crack in the midst of the Indo-Australian plate:

The sequence of huge earthquakes that struck off the coast of Sumatra in April may signal the creation of a new tectonic plate boundary.

Scientists give the assessment in this week’s Nature journal.

They say their analysis of the tremors – the biggest was a magnitude 8.7 – suggests major changes are taking place on the ocean floor that will eventually split the Indo-Australian plate in two.

It is not something that will happen soon; it could take millions of years.

“This is a process that probably started eight to 10 million years ago, so you can imagine how much longer it will take until we get a classic boundary,” said Matthias Delescluse from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.

Dr Delescluse is an author on one of three scholarly papers in Nature discussing the 11 April quakes.

The rupture is being caused, as I understand it, by the fact that India, sitting on the western part of the plate, has slammed full-tilt in the bottom of Asia (forming, among other things, the Himalayas), while Australia continues to move relatively unimpeded.   In one article I read, the analogy was drawn to a side-car on a motorcycle hitting a brick wall while the bike itself continues forward.

I love this sort of thing for two reasons.  For one, I think the contemplation of the enormous time-scales involved is a useful – if at times vertigo-inducing – exercise in perspective.  For another, it is a reminder of the mutability of all things under Heaven and our powerlessness to do anything about it.   The resulting sense of humility is, in my opinion, a good tonic for the soul.