Amanda Maxwell

Feb 7th 2020

Pangaea Theory Has Earth’s Surface on the Move


The ultimate road trip is coming up thanks to the next stage in Pangaea theory. Even though today’s continents formed by breaking apart from a massive supercontinent millions of years ago, according to The Conversation, plate tectonics predict that we could all be very close neighbors once again.

But don’t book time off quite yet: Novopangea, as the potential supercontinent is called, is around 200 to 250 million years away.

What Was Pangaea?

Pangaea, from the Greek pangaia, which means “all the Earth,” once contained almost the whole landmass on the planet. Pangaea theory, according to National Geographic, suggested that the tectonic plates forming the planet’s outer crust slid over the inner layers until they merged as a landmass surrounded by a massive ocean called Panthalassa.

Movement didn’t stop there though.

Driven by rift formation and subduction, the plates and their landmasses continued drifting, eventually breaking up Pangaea. The Geological Society noted that this formed the current arrangement of continents and oceans around 50 million years ago, when India collided with Eurasia to form the Himalayas.

Pangaea’s Discovery

The discovery of Pangaea hinges on a series of coincidences that pushed earth scientists to dig deep into our planet’s history. Anyone who has looked at a world map can’t help but notice how neatly South America fits into the west coast of Africa. According to Scientific American, there are a number of clues that led researchers to consider that our continents and land masses are not fixed in location and have indeed been on the move since formation.

One finding shows that the iron-rich rocks formed from lava vary in their orientation around the world. As the lava cools, the rocks magnetize and line up according to the Earth’s magnetic field. Geological survey shows that the orientations vary by location, suggesting that the original lines of formation have shifted as the landmasses moved around over the millennia.

Additionally, LiveScience noted similarities between coal deposits in North America and Poland, and that the age and type of rocks found across the Appalachian ranges match those found in the Scottish Highlands. Fossil records also show the same species popping up in areas that are now far apart.

Future Supercontinent Travel Itineraries

These findings strongly support Pangaea theory in that at one time in Earth’s history, the animals that became those fossils could simply walk from one area to another unhampered by oceans to cross. And thanks to plate tectonics, seen in action as spectacular volcanic eruption and lava outflow forming new land, we’re likely to see this again.

The tectonic plates are still moving at a rate of a few centimeters per year, according to The Conversation. This also means that with enough time, another supercontinent could form. Novopangea is one proposal, where the continents merge again as the Atlantic Ocean continues to open and the Pacific closes.

Pack your Bags?

Traveling across a massive continent regardless of configuration will be quite different to a road trip today. Expect new mountain ranges thrown up by the squeeze from each continental collision. Local and global climate will also change.

When Pangaea split, ocean currents altered direction and strength affecting movement of warm air and water around the planet. As the continents come together again, systems such as the Gulf Stream will alter course or disappear.

Although modern human migration did take advantage of land bridges, it happened too late to exploit the lack of ocean borders brought about by Pangaea theory. The Smithsonian documented human migration of modern hominids at around 80,000 years ago when our early ancestors left to colonize the ancient world beyond Africa. However, maybe our descendants will take advantage of landmass contiguity, benefiting from a new Pangaea for a global road trip in the (very) distant future.