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Splitting of Earth’s last supercontinent

Date: 17 May 2020 Tags: Geography & Environment

Issue

Pangaea was the Earth's latest supercontinent – a vast amalgamation of all the major landmasses. Before Pangaea began to disintegrate, what we know today as Nova Scotia was attached to what seems like an unlikely neighbour: Morocco. Newfoundland was attached to Ireland and Portugal.

 

Background

For many years, geologists have pondered how all the pieces originally fit together, why they came apart the way they did and how they ended up spread across the globe.

 

Details

  • About 250 million years ago, Pangaea was still stitched together, yet to be ripped apart by the geological forces that shaped the continents as we know them today.

  • The science of exactly why they ended up 5,000 kilometres away from each other, and how other parts of the continental jigsaw puzzle pulled apart the way they did, has been extensively researched and debated.

  • One camp believes the continents were dragged apart by the movement of tectonic plates driven by forces elsewhere. The other group believes that hot material from deeper underground forced its way up and pushed the continents apart.

  • Plate tectonics is an ongoing story that unfolds by mere millimetres each year. The change has added up over eons.

  • Throughout the history of the Earth, the continental landmasses have several times come together and then subsequently been torn apart.

  • This process of amalgamation and subsequent dispersal is known as a "supercontinent cycle." These previous events left behind scars and lines of weakness.

  • When Pangaea was stressed again, it tore open along these older structures. While this process was suggested in the early days of plate tectonic theory, it is only now becoming clear just how important and far reaching it is.