Throughout the history of the study of the Earth, geologists have attempted to understand the factors and forces which shape the surface of our globe. In this book, we shall attempt to summarise the current theories of how the gross surface layer of the Earth evolves tectonically. In this introductory chapter, however, we shall outline the historical evolution of the theory of plate tectonics and then review the three-dimensional nature of the Earth in order to understand the factors which drive the evolution of the plates. Finally, we shall compare the tectonics of the Earth with other terrestrial planets, highlighting the similarities and differences between the nature and evolution of the Earth and its neighbours. This will lead us to conclude that the Earth is likely to have experienced a greater number of impacts from meteorites and comets than is generally accepted by the geological community. In subsequent chapters, we shall investigate what effect these impacts may have had—and will continue to have—on the evolution of our planet.
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