Before Pangaea

Before Pangaea

2021, Science  -   2 Comments
Ratings: 9.00/10 from 15 users.

In 1860, Phillip Slater, the secretary of the British Zoological Society, came up with an interesting theory. He discovered over 29 different kinds of lemur species in Madagascar, which was significantly more than just 12 species in the entire African continent and three in the Indian subcontinent. He realized that Madagascar was the primordial homeland or “ground zero” of lemur development and evolution. Somehow, lemurs crossed oceans to get to Africa and India, or there must have been an ancient land bridge that once connected the two continents to Madagascar.

He called this land bridge “Lemuria”, and it might have been as big as a continent to occupy most of the western Indian Ocean. While his theory might have been interesting, at the time, it wasn’t so - pardon the pun - earth moving. Other observant geologists and scientists also believed that our planet did not always look like it does today - or as it did during the Victorian period. Theories of lost continents began to make the rounds of scientific communities, stating that continents, due to underground earthquakes, for example, just crumbled and sank into the ocean.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that we learned about plate tectonics and that the continents have been continuously moving together and breaking apart for eons. And while this might sound destructive, it might explain why Earth has survived for this long, especially when compared to the planet Venus, where it has zero continents and no surface diversity at all. Due to its homogenous terrain, which did not adapt or evolve, Venus was technically baked alive by the sun.

Scientists studying the Earth’s crust in ocean basins also found signs of the existence of supercontinents. New crust forms in the ocean basins at roughly two and a half centimetres per year. At the same time, the continental crust attached to these basins also shifts at the same rate. You can technically plot where the landmass was located initially if you work backwards. However, you can only go back 340 million years using this method.

The most significant clues came from fossils when scientists moved away from the oceans and looked within the landmasses themselves. Fossils are the petrified and preserved remains of prehistoric organisms cast in rocks. When the 300 million-year-old fossils of the Gosopterus plant were found in Antarctica, India, Australia, South Africa and South America, which suggests that they were all part of a supercontinent with a temperate or tropical climate for the plant to thrive.

A final clue, of course, is the existence of the majestic mountain ranges all over the world, the result of colliding landmasses. They extend so many miles higher than the surrounding landscape to bring home the fact that it was a massive collision between two huge continents.

It may take another 250 million years for another supercontinental age to occur. As to how life will be when it does arrive - or if humanity is still existing by then, we may never know. But it is inevitable, and it is coming.

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ken mierke
ken mierke
2 years ago

very interesting

John Field
John Field
2 years ago

A lovely perspective, particularly at this time of Putin and the chaos he brings. Thanks.