Japanese scientists say giant plumes will prevent new Pangaea

Sep 20, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
Temporal evolution of deformable continents. Image credit: DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-3121.2011.01018.x

(PhysOrg.com) -- For much of Earth's history, the continents have shifted around, sometimes joining with others, sometimes tearing apart to form new continents. One such shift resulted in what Earth scientists call the Pangaea, or supercontinent, where nearly all of the land mass of Earth was consolidated into one single continent. Many Earth Scientists have predicted that such an event is likely to occur again over the next 250 million years or so. Yoshida and Madhava Santosh of Kochi University, Japan, disagree, if only slightly. They contend in their paper published in Terra Nova, that giant plumes far beneath the surface of the Earth will prevent South America and Antarctica from joining each other or the new continent.

The plumes, or hot areas in the mantle some 2800 kilometers below the surface of the Earth, lying roughly between Africa and the South Pacific, are hot enough, the two researchers say, to prevent land masses settling over them. If they are right, the movement that is now going on, where Africa and Europe are moving towards one another, as are parts of Asia and Australia, would not result in the Pacific ocean being closed off as previous research has suggested. Instead, they say the Pacific Ocean will remain open with South America and Antarctica separate from the rest of the new super continent.

While the origin of the plumes is really not very well understood (some suggest they are remnants of the primordial ) the heat they produce emanates up to the surface, raising its level in some cases as much as a kilometer or two. That is enough, most agree, to affect how plates move around relative to them. Until now, however, no one has thought to include the influence of these hot spots in models that seek to show how the continents will drift.

Scientists are able to see how the continents have drifted in the past by studying the magnetic fields in old . They use this information, combined with the measurable movement of the today to come up with models that forecast what will happen in the distant future.

For those that might wonder why such forecasts matter, it’s because it adds to the overall knowledge base that describes our one and only habitable planet. The more we as a people learn about how it works, the better able we will be not just survive on it, but to prosper as the uncertain future unfolds.

Explore further: NASA's HS3 mission covers transition of Hurricane Cristobal

More information: Future supercontinent assembled in the northern hemisphere, Terra Nova, 23, 333–338, 2011. Article first published online: 17 AUG 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-3121.2011.01018.x

Abstract
Continental masses were amalgamated, broken apart and reassembled within supercontinents during different times in Earth history. Here, we attempt to predict the configuration of a potential future supercontinent based on a numerical simulation model of mantle convection. The mantle convection in our model is driven by a density anomaly compiled from a global seismic tomography model. The temporal evolution of a highly viscous continent with an initial present-day configuration is simulated for over 250 Ma. The result reveals that Australia, Eurasia, North America and Africa would gather in the northern hemisphere to form the future supercontinent. On the other hand, Antarctica and South America remain in the present-day position even after 250 Ma from present, and do not join the future supercontinent amalgam. The configuration of the future supercontinent numerically simulated herein is broadly consistent with the hypothetical model of the future supercontinent Amasia speculated from geological correlations.

Related Stories

The continents as a heat blanket

Jan 22, 2009

Drifting of the large tectonic plates and the superimposed continents is not only powered by the heat-driven convection processes in the Earth's mantle, but rather retroacts on this internal driving processes. In doing so, ...

New insights into volcanic activity on the ocean floor

Jun 16, 2010

New research reveals that when two parts of the Earth's crust break apart, this does not always cause massive volcanic eruptions. The study, published today in the journal Nature, explains why some parts ...

Plate tectonics may take a break

Jan 03, 2008

Plate tectonics, the geologic process responsible for creating the Earth’s continents, mountain ranges, and ocean basins, may be an on-again, off-again affair. Scientists have assumed that the shifting of crustal plates ...

Scientists' work improves odds of finding diamonds

Jul 14, 2010

While prospectors and geologists have been successful in finding diamonds through diligent searching, one University of Houston professor and his team's work could help improve the odds by focusing future searches in particular ...

Study reveals how continents can break apart

Aug 01, 2006

A paper co-authored by CSIRO's Professor Klaus Regenauer-Lieb and published in Nature reveals new information on the strength of continents and how they can split apart.

Recommended for you

NASA HS3 instrument views two dimensions of clouds

46 minutes ago

NASA's Cloud Physics Lidar (CPL) instrument, flying aboard an unmanned Global Hawk aircraft in this summer's Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel, or HS3, mission, is studying the changing profile of the atmosphere ...

Research drones launched into Hurricane Edouard

3 hours ago

U.S. government scientists are launching winged drones into Hurricane Edouard, hoping to collect data that could help forecasters understand what makes some storms strengthen into monsters while others fade away.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

aennen
1 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2011
Yeah right, like they know what changes the earth will undergo over the next 15 million years.
gmurphy
5 / 5 (5) Sep 20, 2011
@aennen, given the relatively minor transformation that the world map will undergo in 15 million years, it's a safe enough bet: http://geology.com/pangea.htm
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2011
where did you get the 15 million number from? it says 250 million in the article. anyway, jusy because you dont understand the science behind it doesnt make it any less of a valid theory/model.

Good article, I've often thought of the tectonic changes in the future and if humanity will be able to survive the coming changes to our world. if a new supercontinent is not born it would hopefully stop the disaster in the oceans last time one formed.
tadchem
not rated yet Sep 21, 2011
The forming of supercontinents and their breaking up appears to be cyclical. Before Pangaea were the supercontinents Nuna, Rodinia, and Pannotia.
Are the authors suggesting that the plumes that will inhibit the formation of a new supercontinent have developed since the formation of Pangaea? If so, what is their proposed mechanism for the emergence/disappearance of plumes. If not, how could Pangaea have formed at all?