Earth’s continents are set to merge into a single landmass within the next 250 million years, an animation shows.
The animation was posted on Reddit on Tuesday, where it quickly garnered more than 3,500 comments and around 36,000 upvotes. It was originally uploaded by news outlet Tech Insider in 2017. Tech Insider said the animation used projections by Chris Scotese, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University. .
The animation shows how the continents constrict and contort over time, with Australia first drifting north and Africa moving up towards Europe. You can see the video posted on Reddit here and the original clip on YouTube here.
East Asia begins to move west and Antarctica begins to float north towards South Asia and the east coast of Africa. Eventually, North America and Western Europe merge across the Atlantic. By the time the 250 million year mark is reached, all present continental regions are barely distinguishable in the middle of the great landmass. On the other side of the Earth is a huge expanse of ocean.
It wouldn’t be the first time that nearly all of Earth’s landmass has been concentrated into a massive supercontinent. The last time this happened was during the Early Permian, around 299 to 273 million years ago, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
This supercontinent was called Pangea – also spelled Pangea – and it was surrounded by a global ocean called Panthalassa. It began to break apart about 200 million years ago and eventually formed the continents and oceans we know today.
Continents are in motion because heat from radioactive processes inside the Earth moves the Earth’s crust, which is made up of 15 to 20 moving tectonic plates resting on molten mantle rock.
Robert Butler, professor of tectonics, geology and geophysics at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said Newsweek the future animation of the supercontinent was “quite crude and difficult to judge”, as it does not show plate boundaries.
However, he said “people might quibble about the animation details, like their own place on the planet, but the overall premise is pretty solid.”
Butler also said that predicting future continental drift relies on using past records of continental movements and then extrapolating them into the future.
“It’s quite robust because the relative plate motion velocities are slow and it’s non-turbulent,” he said. “We can track very precisely the evolution of the backplate for the past, say, 200 million years, because the record of relative plate motion is traced by the record of seafloor spreading over the modern oceans of the world. .
“You can test extrapolations by fitting pieces of geology together like pieces of a puzzle – the rocks on the continents rather than just the edges, as these warp and break or recombine.”
Butler said the prediction of a future Pangea is not very surprising. “Supercontinents are thought to come and go in cycles over the last 3 billion years at least.”