Weird question, bear with me. Most large peninsula on Earth are oriented southwards (and most of the rest northwards), much fewer east or west. Some examples: Florida, Californa peninsula, Yucatan, South America, Antarctic peninsula, India, Kamtjatka, Korea, Malaysia, Scandinavia, Italy, Greece, Greenland. Contrary examples would be east Siberia, Kola, Turkey. (Is it just me, or have this question ever been raised before in history?)

Is this just coincidence, or could conceivably some tectonic, gravitational or rotational forces help cause this phenomena? Maybe because the tectonic ridges in the Atlantic and the Pacific are north-south oriented and stretch almost from pole to pole? And could that in turn be caused by the dynamics of the inner Earth?

Elevation maps of Venus are more fragmented than the continents of Earth. And Mars is half highland half lowland. Neither has plate tectonics like Earth.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think this is a question for Earthsciences.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Yashbhatt
    May 10, 2014 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ Simple -- it's continental drip! (Sorry, I don't know of a serious answer.) $\endgroup$
    – Pont
    May 12, 2014 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ I've been quoting this article a couple of times. I'm not really convinced, but maybe we should add some more astronomy in our mantel models.… $\endgroup$
    – user2821
    Jul 27, 2015 at 13:15

1 Answer 1


Starting from the bottom of your question I would not compare planets with plate tectonics with planets that don't have this process. During rifting of a tectonic plate a triple junction will be the most favourable way of faulting the crust. After that two arms of the rift are favoured and the third one becomes a failed rift (aulacogen). Because of this process linear features on a planet will be very emphasized.

The current geometry of mid ocean ridges and subduction zones does fall into a strong north-south pattern (Exceptions are Antarctica and the Aleutian trench). This might also be due to the fact that the plates form a system that in all its complexity still strives for lower stress and effective heat transport. In this case a parallel system of mid-ocean-ridges and subduction zones might be more favourable than a totally random alignment of those features.

The dynamics of the inner Earth are of course not independent of the plates and it is difficult to assign causality. Nonetheless you could again think of a complex system that seeks for efficiency (pragmatism if you will). With subduction plates being plate-shaped, circulation above and beneath them will probably be more stable in a cylindrical fashion. So the heat distribution on the upwelling side of the circulation should also create linear features. In any case we just happen to live in a time where the system went for a North-South oriented minimum.

Continuing this thought process we can also find an explanation why features in this tectonic-north-south part of the world are oriented in this way. Many north-south striking islands have north-south striking back-arc-basins that separate them from their main land masses. And peninsulas are sometimes the arms of failed rifts or the tapering of back-arc-basins. Outside of this prevalent orientation we see features like Nowaja Semlja with very different orientations.

But be cautious with this theory. Assigning each feature on Earth to a north-south and east-west orientation gives you a 50 % chance that a randomly aligned feature will confirm your theory. Even four directions still give you 25 % chance. So the more directions you consider the harder it is to prove the theory. I am not aware of anybody doing a global peninsula inventory, so it would be interesting to see this.


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