The Pacific makes way for the next supercontinent

Sydney. In 1912, German meteorologist and geoscientist Alfred Wegener noted that what is now the continents were once one giant landmass that later broke apart. Wegener called this supercontinent Pangaea, a word derived from the Greek and meaning “all countries”. Pangea broke up into two new continents around 200 million years ago: Laurasia and Gondwanaland. Today’s North America, Europe and Asia emerged from Laurasia. Gondwanaland split into South America, Africa, Antarctica, India, Australia and Zealandia, which is now largely submerged.

In another 200 to 300 million years, the situation as we know it today will be completely different again. How this world of the future could look like, have that Curtin University researchers in Perth, Western Australia, and Peking University in China. The scientists worked with a supercomputer that modeled the evolution of the earth’s tectonic plates and the emergence of a future supercontinent. The researchers published the results of their study in the journalNational Science Review“.

Pacific starring

“Over the past two billion years, Earth’s continents have collided every 600 million years to form a supercontinent,” said the study’s lead author, Chuan Huang, of Curtin University. This process is known as the supercontinent cycle. “This means that in a few hundred million years, today’s continents will move together again.”

The researchers suspect that the previous supercontinents formed in very different ways. The team’s simulation shows that the thickness and strength of the tectonic plates beneath the oceans has decreased over time. The reason for this is that the earth has been cooling since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. According to the researchers, the latter suggests that the next supercontinent will not form by closing the “young” oceans such as the Atlantic or the Indian Ocean. Instead, they believe the world’s oldest ocean, the Pacific, will play the leading role.

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Australia as a link

The Pacific Ocean is what remains of the Panthalassa superocean. It is the oldest ocean on earth. The Pacific has been shrinking since the dinosaur age. Based on the new simulation, the ocean, which currently spans 10,000 kilometers, will be gone in less than 300 million years.

The reason for this is that the continents are not fixed land masses: If Asia and America collide, a new supercontinent is created, which the researchers have already given a name to: Amasia. “Australia is also expected to play a role in this major Earth event,” Chuan Huang said. Presumably, the fifth continent will first collide with Asia and then connect America and Asia once the Pacific closes. Australia is currently drifting toward Asia at a rate of about three inches per year, while Eurasia and the Americas are moving more slowly toward the Pacific.

Climate changes, earthquakes and less biodiversity

“Earth as we know it will change drastically as Amasia forms,” ​​said study co-author Zheng-Xiang Li of Curtin University. For example, sea levels are likely to be lower, the researcher said. In addition, the scientists expect a number of climate changes.

The latter is because “ocean currents are stopped by continental collisions or new ocean currents are created when continents break apart,” as the researcher explained. The vast interior of the new supercontinent will probably be very dry and show high daily temperature fluctuations. Surrounded by a new superocean, the newly formed supercontinent is also likely to have reduced biodiversity. The researchers also expect more earthquakes when continental plates collide.

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