February 23, 2024

Pangea to the Present to the Future: Watch Animations Showing 500 Million Years of Continental Drift


Things change…

Espe­cial­ly when you’re track­ing the con­ti­nen­tal move­ment from Pangea to the present day in 5 mil­lion years incre­ments at the rate of 2.5 mil­lion years per sec­ond.

Wher­ev­er you are, 350 mil­lion years ago, your address would’ve been locat­ed on the mega-con­ti­nent of Pangea.

Ear­ly humans debuted around 200 mil­lion years ago, which is when the geospa­tial tech com­pa­ny ESRI’s time lapse ani­ma­tion, above, begins.

Here’s a map of what things looked like back then.

Those who’ve grown a bit fuzzy on their geog­ra­phy may require some indi­ca­tions of where future land­mass­es formed when Pangea broke apart. Your map apps can’t help you here.

The first split occurred in the mid­dle of the Juras­sic peri­od, result­ing in two hemi­spheres, Laura­sia to the north and Gond­wana.

As the project’s sto­ry map notes, 175 mil­lion years ago Africa and South Amer­i­ca already bore a resem­blance to their mod­ern day con­fig­u­ra­tions.

North Amer­i­ca, Asia, and Europe need­ed to stay in the oven a bit longer, their famil­iar shapes begin­ning to emerge between 150 and 120 mil­lion years ago.

India peeled off from its “moth­er” con­ti­nent of Gond­wana some 100 mil­lion years ago.

Its tec­ton­ic plate col­lid­ed with the Eurasian Plate, giv­ing rise to the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, by which point, dinosaurs had been extinct for about 15 mil­lion years…)

Geog­ra­phy nerds may chafe at the seem­ing­ly inac­cu­rate sizes of Green­land, Antarc­ti­ca and Aus­tralia. Rest assured that the map­mak­ers are aware, chalk­ing it to the “dis­tor­tion of the car­to­graph­ic pro­jec­tion that exag­ger­ates areas close to the Poles.”

Just for fun, let’s run it back­wards!

But enough of the past. What of the future?

Those who real­ly want to know could jump ahead to the end of the sto­ry map to see PALEOMAP Project founder Christo­pher Scotese’s spec­u­la­tive con­fig­u­ra­tion of earth 250 mil­lion years hence, should cur­rent tec­ton­ic plate motion trends con­tin­ue.

Behold his vision of mega-con­ti­nent, Pangea Prox­i­ma, a land­mass “formed from all cur­rent con­ti­nents, with an appar­ent excep­tion of New Zealand, which remains a bit on the side:”

On the oppo­site side of the world, North Amer­i­ca is try­ing to fit to Africa, but it seems like it does not have the right shape. It will prob­a­bly need more time…

Not to bum you out, but a more recent study paints a grim­mer pic­ture of a com­ing super­con­ti­nent, Pangea Ulti­ma, when extreme tem­per­a­tures have ren­dered just 8 per­cent of Earth’s sur­face hos­pitable to mam­mals, should they sur­vive at all.

As the study’s co-author, cli­ma­tol­o­gist Alexan­der Farnsworth, told Nature News, humans might do well to get “off this plan­et and find some­where more hab­it­able.”

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Map Show­ing Where Today’s Coun­tries Would Be Locat­ed on Pangea

Find the Address of Your Home on Pan­gaea: Open Source Project Lets You Explore the Ancient Land Mass­es of Our Plan­et

Paper Ani­ma­tion Tells Curi­ous Sto­ry of How a Mete­o­rol­o­gist The­o­rized Pan­gaea & Con­ti­nen­tal Drift (1910)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.





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