The world hasn’t always appeared as it does now. Did you know that before the seven continents we have today existed, there used to be one supersized continent called Pangaea? In the oceans of the Earth at that time were mighty sea scorpions, trilobites, and many more creatures. Large reptiles and synapsids dominated the land and ocean (mammal-like reptiles and our ancestors).
The Pangaea continent was once a supercontinent that would have been shaped like a big “C.” Pangia gets its name from the Greek word pangaia, which means “all the Earth.” Pangea would have reached from one end of the Earth to the other. It was made up of almost all of the landmasses on Earth.
What happened to Pangaea? Why do we have seven continents now instead of one? What caused the breakup of Pangaea and a mass extinction event before the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs? These are all questions that geologists with the help of NASA are beginning to show that a supercontinent like Pangaea may form again.
More deadly than the Chicxulub asteroid
Many people believe that the six-mile-wide asteroid called Chicxulub caused the worst mass extinction event in history.
The Chicxulub event, in which an asteroid crashed into the water off the coast of what is now Mexico, accounts for killing more than 75% of all species on Earth. This event happened about 66 million years ago, and the impact caused the extinction of most dinosaurs. What could possibly be worse or as bad as that?
What caused the breakup of Pangaea?
Before the Chicxulub event, which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, there was another terrifying and maybe greater extinction-level event at the end of the Permian Period (circa 250 million years ago) which helped pave the way for the rise of dinosaurs and their descendants. Various estimates place the total amount of life wiped off the Earth’s face between 70 and 90 percent.
The break-up of Pangaea occurred during the worst mass extinction in history. Maybe an asteroid triggered the breakup of Pangaea, or it may have been something else. Scientists can agree that there was a substantial extinction-level event before the rise of the dinosaurs. It coincides with the more rapid tectonic plate movement on Earth, making the once supercontinent Pangaea change into many continents.
The unsettling fact is that some scientists believe supercontinents form and break up in approximately 400–500 million-year cycles. They understand that all of the world’s significant landmasses came together to form Pangaea after the Permian Period. During the Triassic Period, the Pangaea supercontinent began to fragment some 200 million years ago.
Christopher McFadden states that some scientists say there is a “supercontinent cycle” in which the tectonic plates move apart and back together to form supercontinents. This process takes hundreds of millions of years. Indeed it is possible that this supercontinent itself could have been made from once smaller continents crashed together.
Geologists have been able to recreate Pangaea as the most recent supercontinent. Geologists are less sure about the reconstructions of the numerous others believed to have existed before Pangaea.
Pangea was there before the Earth had seven continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australia/Oceania, and Antarctica.
The ‘Great Dying’
The breakup of Pangaea caused such an immense loss of life that it is generally known among scientists as “the Great Dying.”Many species were wiped off due to the drastic change in the global climate.
Before the rise of the dinosaurs, the “Great Dying” event occurred, but its exact cause is unknown. Some theories propose a nearby supernova exposure or another significant asteroid collision that happened a few hundred million years before the Chicxulub asteroid. It could also have been the outcome of a combination of factors. Recent research reveals that volcanic activity releases a massive amount of greenhouse gases, causing global warming and ocean acidification on a gigantic scale. The incident permanently altered life on our planet. The dissolution of Pangaea would have also been caused by the mass volcanism.
Some people are only getting their heads around dinosaurs’ existence, and that an asteroid made them extinct. You might be wondering, what is this supercontinent Pangaea, a landmass that was around before dinosaurs were dominant on Earth?
Pangaea is the scientifically proven supercontinent from the past. For most modern-day scientists, Pangaea is more than a theory about history; it is a fact.
Pangaea and continental drift
Pangaea is a widely held belief among scientists, particularly in geology and paleogeography.
Learning about continental drift and the once supercontinent of Pangaea that once existed may turn the doomsday predictions focus from terror in the skies to fear of what is happening beneath our feet. Even NASA observes the shifting tectonic plates of the Earth and the possibility that the continents of the Earth may become a supercontinent once more.
Where did this belief in a continent called Pangaea come from? A huge supersized continent filled with creatures of mythical sounding names that we don’t see around today.
Is Pangaea any more real than Narnia?
Alfred Wegener, a German meteorologist, came up with the idea of Pangea in 1912. As part of his theory on continental drift, he asserted that one supercontinent Pangea became the many continents we have today.
On theinfographicsshow we cover many scientific ideas; some are easier to prove than others. For instance, the scientific belief in the planet Vulcan (a planet that scientists thought apparently existed between Mercury and the Sun) was later proved wrong by Einstein. How reliable is scientific the opinion about Pangaea? Is Pangaea scientific theory and fantasy?
What exactly distinguishes Wegener’s notion of Pangaea as a supercontinent from CS Lewis’ imaginary land of Narnia?
According to those who have embraced Wegener’s theory of continental drift, this continent’s Central Pangean Mountains split off during continental drift to become the Scottish Highlands, the Appalachians, the Ouachita Mountains, and the Little Atlas of Morocco.
This may sound like bunk, but modern-day geologists are willing to give credence to the one supercontinent theory and say that some types of igneous rock in Scotland can only be found in a few areas of Greenland and the US. Geologists believe that this demonstrates that Scotland was formerly connected to these regions of Greenland and the US, but not the rest of the UK. Scientists conclude that the ancient Lapetus Ocean separated Scotland from England and Wales 500 million years ago.
These geologists would say that Scotland finally broke away from Greenland and North America when North Atlantic began to form about 60 million years ago.
There are many other examples, such as the rocks that made up a series of huge mountains called Gondwana. These rocks can now be found in Brazil and northern Africa, but they were formed simultaneously.
There are also other ways to back up these kinds of reconstructions. Scientists can get a pretty good idea of how old rocks, hundreds of millions of years old, are by looking at how different fast elements break down.
How the world map as we know it was formed
At this period, the two continents were divided by the Atlantic Ocean, which was beginning to form.
The continents continue to split into the landmasses we recognize on the world map today. This process kept going on without stopping until the present day. As a result, the modern continents and the Atlantic and Indian oceans were formed.
Christopher McFadden, who writes about Pangaea on interestingengineering.com, states that we should consider a world map today as just a snapshot of the Earth’s long history. Through a process called “plate tectonics,” the Earth’s crust is constantly changing, and the continents move around it over time. The way the continents are set up now is just a snapshot of a continually changing surface. The continents move around over time, and some form supercontinents.
Proving the science
The most effective way that scientists have tried to figure out what happened in the past, especially millions of years ago, is by looking at rock formations and what’s inside them.
Fossils, chemical analyses, the minerals in a rock, and other things tell us what was going on when it was first made. Geologists can figure out what life was like on Earth in the past by looking carefully at rock formations worldwide and in their own areas.
The scientific field of paleogeography specializes in trying to piece together the Earth’s physical features from a long time ago, such as the landmasses that were there. Continental drift theory and the supercontinent of Pangaea are now reasonably established in scientific belief.
NASA says supercontinent formation is still happening
According to NASA observations, another supercontinent is anticipated to evolve in the next 200–250 million years. Pieces of the old supercontinent Pangaea are still spreading across the Earth’s surface today. India is hitting the “underside” of Asia, the African piece is hitting Southern Europe, and the Americas are coming together. Amazingly, this process is nowhere near over, and plate tectonics will continue to change the surface of our planet for a long time.
It is hard to say what the landmasses of Earth will look like in the future, but it looks like another supercontinent is on the way. Theoretically called Pangaea Proxima, this new supercontinent is thought to form about 200 million years. Whether this will happen as a gentle shift or a catastrophic crash of land masses and volcanic eruptions releasing toxic gases remains to be seen in future years by future generations. The tectonic plates are shifting and NASA can observe it happening from space. Anyone interested in emigrating to Mars with Musk?