MadSci Network: Earth Sciences

Re: What did the Continents look like before Pangaea?

Date: Thu Oct 4 05:36:04 2001
Posted By: David Scarboro, Faculty, Earth Sciences, The Open University
Area of science: Earth Sciences
ID: 1001626750.Es

Dear Hannah,

The website for you is the Paleomap Project, located at

Use the “Earth History” hotlink on the Paleomap Project website which lets 
you select and view maps of where the continents were for each geological 
period going back to the Late Proterozoic, 650 million years ago.

There are other fascinating things you can do on the Paleomap Project 
website too.  See what you can learn by exploring it.

Pangea was not the first supercontinent in the Earth’s history.  There was 
a much older supercontinent called Rodinia which formed about 1.1 billion 
years ago, and which broke up in the Late Proterozoic.  The continents 
which split away from Rodinia drifted during the Paleozoic Era until they 
collided to form the southern supercontinent called Gondwana and the 
northern supercontinent called Laurasia.  Gondwana and Laurasia then came 
together by the end of the Carboniferous Period to form Pangea.

The Paleomap Project will take you back to the time when Rodinia was 
breaking up.  Our knowledge of where the continents were and what they 
looked like is pretty good for Pangea and the more recent geological past 
since Pangea broke up.  Our knowledge becomes less good before Pangea 
because the geological evidence on which we base reconstructions of the 
movements of the ancient continents becomes less reliable the further back 
in time we go.  But we still have a pretty good idea of how the continents 
wandered over the Earth back as far as Rodinia.

Before Rodinia we do not know what the continents looked like.  We think 
that the land masses that existed in these very early times were smaller 
and more numerous than the continents after Rodinia.  Going back as far as 
4 billion years ago or more, I imagine the Earth covered by a global 
ocean, with volcanic island chains as the only land. Over hundreds of 
millions of years these island chains, which would have moved around on 
the Earth’s surface as the tectonic plates moved, collided to form larger 
land masses.  Finally these collisions created Rodinia.

I hope this answers your question, and I hope you enjoy using the Paleomap 

Kind regards,

David Scarboro

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