What if one day the continents joined into one giant landmass again and you could travel from North America to Africa on foot?What country would become your new neighbor? Would this cause natural disasters all over the planet?
How long would this new Pangaea last for? Did you know the land below you is actually moving right now?
This is because all seven continents sit on the tectonic plates that Earth’s crust is broken into. These plates are floating on molten rock at the same speed your fingernails grow.
It may sound slow, but it does add up over hundreds of millions of years. In the 4.5-billion-year history of Earth, our continents have changed their appearance many times… sometimes fusing together in crunching collisions, and sometimes breaking apart.
Right now they are slowly moving toward another collision. What if one day they suddenly sped up and smashed into a supercontinent again? Would you wake up to find yourself at the Mexican border?
Approximately 270 million years ago, Earth would have been a step counter’s paradise. People who now plan their days around routes that best pad the walking stats on their exercise app of choice would’ve had the opportunity to hike across one massive continent that made up all of our planet’s landmass.
The puzzle pieces that are the continents we know today were at that point fused together at the end of the Paleozoic Era, and as of the early 1900s that pole-to-pole hunk of rock has been known as Pangaea – Greek for “all of Earth.”
What if we stepped up the pace of the planet’s current tectonic plate travel time and pulled the continents back together? What could we expect to see happen if another supercontinent formed?
We can all thank German meteorologist Alfred Wegener for the original theory behind Earth being made up of one single landmass at some point during the planet’s history. Published in 1912, Wegener’s The Origin of Continents and Oceans showcased his hypothesis that continental drift and plate tectonics were very real and very responsible for the formation of Pangaea.
The world would look very different from what you’re used to. If the plates collided in the direction they are moving now, the flight from Australia to Asia would never be cheaper. Since Australia would collide with Japan, Korea and China, the two continents would no longer be separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
And if you’re really into walking, you’d also be able to travel from sunny Australia to the world’s coldest continent, Antarctica, on foot. North America would bump into western Africa. Citizens of New York might wake up to find Namibian lions roaming through Central Park.
The northern part of Africa would crash into Europe. This would create a new Himalayan-scale mountain range on the border of the tectonic plates. Think camels would enjoy a chilly day on a snowhill?
South America would push east, bumping Brazil into South Africa, and Argentina into Antarctica. It’s possible that North America would merge with Asia into a big continent known as Amasia. Canadians might need to brush up on their Russian.
This continent would form on top of the planet, and then start slumping toward the equator. In this case, South America would swing forward, crashing Ecuador into Florida. Some of these changes may sound fun, but there would be some really bad news, too. The eastern side of the Americas, along with Western Europe and Africa, would turn into an earthquake danger zone.
On top of that, these areas would be devastated by the eruptions of newly-formed volcanoes.
Green slopes of the Appalachians would become giant snow-covered mountains spewing ash and lava. This new Pangaea would mostly be arid and hot, as rain clouds would lose most of the moisture before getting too far inland.
The supercontinent would be centered at the equator. Wildlife would become less diverse as not all species can bear hot temperatures. But just like the most recent continental mashup, this reunion wouldn’t last forever.
Well, not longer than 50 million years. Volcanic eruptions would be spewing out large amounts of lava and gas. Add devastating earthquakes to the equation, and you’d see these dangerous regions start to pull themselves apart.
Stirred by hot currents below, the supercontinent would eventually break apart into smaller continents going their separate ways. If bordering Australia looks like a cool thing to you – bad luck, you won’t see this happening any time soon.
But you can always imagine how the world would look if the giant continental pieces of puzzle came together. Give the planet 300 million years, and there will be another supercontinent. Geologist already gave it a name – Pangaea Ultima. What would you name it?
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