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The Earth’s supercontinent – Pangaea

Pangaea logo hg.png

By Hannes Grobe/AWI – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link

The Earth’s continents are thought to have collided to become supercontinents and broken apart again several times in Earth’s 4.5 billion year history. About 300 million years ago, Earth had one massive supercontinent called Pangaea (Pangaeawas), which was surrounded by a single ocean called Panthalassa – not the seven continents that fit together like a tongue and groove.

Pangaeawas  formed through a gradual process, spanning a few hundred million years. About 480 million years ago, a continent called Laurentia, which includes parts of North America, merged with several other micro-continents to form Euramerica. Euramerica eventually collided with Gondwana, another supercontinent that included Africa, Australia, South America and the Indian subcontinent.

Climatic cycles:

Pangaea existed for 100 million years, and during that time period several animals flourished, including the Traversodontidae, a family of plant-eating animals that includes the ancestors of mammals. Insects such as beetles and dragonflies flourished.

Having one massive landmass would have made for very different climatic cycles. The interior of the continent may have been utterly dry, as it was locked behind massive mountain chains that blocked all moisture or rainfall.

Coal deposits found in Pennsylvania reveal that parts of the ancient supercontinent near the equator must have been a lush, tropical rainforest, similar to the Amazonian jungle. These deposits have a similar composition to those spanning across Poland, Great Britain and Germany – all dating from the same time period. This indicates that North America and Europe must have once been one single landmass.

The current configuration of continents is unlikely to be the last. Supercontinents have formed several times in Earth’s history, only to be split off into new continents. Right now,  Australia is inching toward Asia, and the eastern portion of Africa is slowly peeling off from the rest of the continent.

Geological models predict mantle convection and continental movement patterns 250 million years in the future. These models suggest that over millions of years, the Pacific Ocean will close as Australia, North America, Africa, and Eurasia come together in the Northern Hemisphere – forming a super continent. The two remaining continents, Antarctica and South America, are predicted to remain relatively immobile and separate from the new supercontinent.

In short – it is a changing world.


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