Study reveals ancient jigsaw puzzle of past supercontinent

Study reveals ancient jigsaw puzzle of past supercontinent

A new study published today in the journal Gondwana Research, has revealed the past position of the Australian, Antarctic and Indian tectonic plates, demonstrating how they formed the supercontinent Gondwana 165 million years ago.

Researchers from Royal Holloway University, The Australian National University and Geoscience Australia, have helped clear up previous uncertainties on how the plates evolved and where they should be positioned when drawing up a picture of the past.

Dr Lloyd White from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway University said: "The Earth's move around through time. As these movements occur over many millions of years, it has previously been difficult to produce accurate maps of where the continents were in the past.

"We used a to move of Australia, India and Antarctica back through time and built a 'jigsaw puzzle' of the Gondwana. During the process, we found that many existing studies had positioned the plates in the wrong place because the geological units did not align on each plate."

The researchers adopted an old technique used by people who discovered the theories of and , but which had largely been ignored by many modern scientists.

This video shows a reconstruction of the breakup of the Australian, Antarctic and Indian tectonic plates, demonstrating how the major plates that once formed eastern Gondwana broke apart, starting from 165 millions years ago and progressing to the present day. The coloured polygons represent different geological units that have been mapped (and inferred) by geologists over many years. These geological units formed before the continents broke apart, so we can use their position to put the "jigsaw pieces" back together again. Many other reconstructions do not use the geological boundaries to match the continental "jigsaw pieces" back together - so they don't align properly. This is discussed in detail in a scientific paper titled: "A reassessment of paleogeographic reconstructions of eastern Gondwana: bringing geology back into the equation" which is published in the journal "Gondwana Research".

"It was a simple technique, matching the geological boundaries on each plate. The geological units formed before the continents broke apart, so we used their position to put this ancient back together again," Dr White added.

"It is important that we know where the plates existed many millions of years ago, and how they broke apart, as the regions where plates break are often where we find major oil and gas deposits, such as those that are found along Australia's southern margin."

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Citation: Study reveals ancient jigsaw puzzle of past supercontinent (2013, July 4) retrieved 21 October 2019 from
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User comments

Jul 05, 2013
This is a science site, not a bible study club.

I like how Australia suddenly breaks away at full sprint.

verkle, the phrase "because in his time, the earth was divided," does not hint at knowledge of plate tectonics, only that people spoke different languages and had different customs in different areas. It's not an especially insightful quote, either. I think most people understand diversity. Holy texts don't have anything to contribute to the field of plate tectonics, with all due respect.

Jul 06, 2013
Well, if this breakup on the South Pole started 165 mya, that pretty much leaves Pangea out of the picture? What caused the energetic kick for both continents and left Antarctica in place?

Jul 06, 2013
besides, the more important tell-tell is the diamonds. They are found at the s/e tip of Africa, the tip of India, and sprinkled on the coast of Australia. This well spring from the near-core of Earth would seem to be a better indicator of just where the breakup occurred.
Notice the most likely source is from deep earth and has not ever been seen only proposed. and the date is over 500 my ago.

Jul 06, 2013
In about 250 million years, the next supercontinent is expected to form. But, by then, who knows what the state of the world will be like?

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