Written for the KidsKnowIt Network by: Brandon Guymon
Pangaea was a super continent that existed at the time of the Dinosaurs. The word Pangaea comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “all lands.”Pangaea was created when all the continents we know today smashed together like some giant car wreck. This crashing together was not agentle process.The Appalachian Mountains in North America and the Ural Mountains on the boundary of Europe and Asia are the results of some of these collisions.That’s right – the continents smashed together hard enough to form mountains! Pangaea was shaped like a giant letter C.It sprawled across the equator and extended from the North Pole to the South Pole. If you lived at the time of Pangaea,you could walk from the North Pole to the South Pole without getting your feet wet… well, unless you had to wade in a river or something.
Pangaea started to form about 540 million years ago in the late Cambrian time period. It didn’t finish forming until the Triassic period approximately 200-250 million years ago.Because all the land was in one big mass, the scientists believe that the climate of Pangaea was much drier and hotter than it is now.
At the beginning of the Cambrian time period life existed, but not in the form that we know today.Life was mostly single-celled organisms, like bacteria.By the time Pangaea was finished forming in the Triassic, life flourished in the oceans and had spread from the water to the land.The first dinosaurs evolved during the Triassic.One of the earliest dinosaurs we know of was named Eoraptor. Eoraptor was just a little guy; about one meter in length (3.2 feet) and approximately 10 kilograms (22 pounds).Because all the land mass was in one giant piece, the animals and plants on the land could spread to every corner of the land mass.Scientists find the fossil remains of the same Triassic animals and plants on every continent.
Pangaea started to break up into the continents that we know now during the middle of the Jurassic time period, about 175 million years ago.The Jurassic time period is the time period of many of the most commonly known dinosaurs, such as the Stegosaurusand Allosaurus. Have you ever noticed that the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa look like they could fit together like a giant jig saw puzzle? That’s because they used to be stuck together.It’s harder to see but, if you look at the North American Continent and Greenland you can see that they look like puzzle pieces, too.At one point North America,Greenland and Europe were all connected; because North America and Europe were connected, you can find the same rock formations in New York and in Scotland.
Geologists call the process of breaking up rifting.Rifting happens when two tectonic plates move apart on what geologists call a divergent plate boundary. That’s how scientists talk.Here’s how it works. The Earth’s crust is not a single piece but is broken up into several pieces called plates.These plates float like giant rafts on a sea of melted rock called the mantle.At some places the plates crash into each other and one plate is shoved under the other and starts to melt. This kind of boundary is called a convergent boundary.In other places the plates are forced apart when melted rock flows up from the mantle and cools forming new crust.This type of boundary is called a divergent boundary.As the continents move far enough apart, the water from the ocean flows in to fill up the space.This process happens very slowly as the tectonic plates only move from 0 to 100mm (0 to3.9 inches) per year.
The rifting of Pangaea started with North America and Africa, and rifting continues on the east side of Africa near the Red Sea in an area called the Great Rift Valley. The land mass that would become North America was twisted so that the Mississippi River Valley would have been running east and west, not north and south.In fact, the Mississippi River Valley is the result of a failed rift. North America and Africa tried to split apart along what we now call the Mississippi River Valley.When North America finally rifted away from Africa, it formed the beginning of what is now the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, rifts were forming between Africa,Antarctica and Australia, forming the start of the Indian Ocean.These rifts would continue to grow through the Cretaceous (dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous) time period.Also, the Cretaceous was when North America and Europe rifted apart.
The continents wouldn’t reach their current arrangement until 35 million years ago when India crashed into Asia forming the Himalayan Mountains.
Pangaea took a really long time to crash together (340 million years), was really big, and took a really long time to break apart (140 million years).Did you know that in about 250 million years all the continents will have crashed together forming another supercontinent?Scientists already have a name for the new supercontinent. They are calling it Pangaea Ultima.
What force on Earth could possibly have enough energy to cause the continents to move as far as they have?