At several points in Earth's history, superoceans or giant bodies of water surrounded supercontinents. Scientists have long identified that the supercontinents' formation (and breaking up) happens about every 600 million years. The first was supercontinent Nuna which developed about 1.6 billion years ago, and then Rodinia about 800 million years ago. The last supercontinent to form was Pangea, about 200 million years ago. When Pangea broke apart to eventually form the current seven continents, they split up the previous super ocean into the different oceans and seas present today.
It was only relatively recently that man consciously decided to study oceans, not as just a "terrain" to cross or map to find other landforms. On December 1872, the British Navy ship, the HMS Challenger, set forth around the world to sail into and map the Earth's many interconnected seas and oceans. The ship had laboratories equipped with microscopes, sample-collection bottles and chemicals, and over 300 kilometres of hemp rope on board. It also wanted to find out more about what was beneath the surface. They took samples of the ocean floor's sediments, plants, rocks and water. Though they did not uncover anything revolutionary, they started the science of oceanography so that man could learn more about how this gigantic portion of our planet works and affects us all.
Today, we know more about the moon's surface than we do about the deepest parts of our ocean, especially since 95% of it is in total darkness, plus the trillion tons of water serve as a natural barrier for exploration. Scientists need sonar and deep-diving vehicles, instruments and robots to learn more about it. But over a century of oceanography and geological studies have proven that superoceans and supercontinents existed thanks to plate tectonics.
Tethys, for example, was a massive ancient sea named after the Greek sea goddess. On the other hand, Panthalassa, Greek for "All sea", was an enormous ocean reaching both poles and was about two times the size of the Pacific Ocean. Pangea's east and western seaboards must have been battered and ravaged repeatedly by strong winds and rains, with the scope and size none of us can imagine today. Storms that begin to form in the middle of a superocean have over 20,000 kilometres of uninterrupted water to grow into massive surges that would have had the power to reshape the coastline.
Scientists project that a new supercontinental age is coming. The Indo-Australian plate, for example, is still continuously moving towards Eurasia, causing the Himalayas to rise at a rate of about two centimeters annually. Will the Atlantic Ocean continue to expand? Will the Pacific Ocean grow until it becomes as large as its predecessor, Panthalassa? Or will it be the Indian Ocean that will soon dominate the globe? Whatever happens, life will definitely be a challenge on a planet controlled by massive water and weather conditions.
Directed by: Pete Kelly