Pangaea or Pangea ( /pænˈdʒiːə/) was a supercontinent that
existed during the late
Paleozoic and early
Mesozoic eras. It
assembled from earlier continental units approximately 335 million
years ago, and it began to break apart about 175 million years ago.
In contrast to the present
Earth and its distribution of continental
mass, much of
Pangaea was in the southern hemisphere and surrounded by
a superocean, Panthalassa.
Pangaea was the most recent supercontinent
to have existed and the first to be reconstructed by geologists.
1 Origin of the concept
3 Evidence of existence
4 Rifting and break-up
5 Tectonic plate shift
7 Climate change after Pangaea
8 Implications of extinction
9 See also
11 External links
Origin of the concept
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Earliest sexual reproduction
Axis scale: million years
Orange labels: ice ages.
Human timeline and Nature timeline
The name "Pangaea/Pangea" is derived from
Ancient Greek pan (πᾶν,
"all, entire, whole") and Gaia (Γαῖα, "Mother Earth,
land"). The concept that the continents once formed a
continuous land mass was first proposed by Alfred Wegener, the
originator of the scientific theory of continental drift, in his 1912
publication The Origin of Continents (Die Entstehung der
Kontinente). He expanded upon his hypothesis in his 1915 book The
Origin of Continents and Oceans (Die Entstehung der Kontinente und
Ozeane), in which he postulated that, before breaking up and drifting
to their present locations, all the continents had formed a single
supercontinent that he called the "Urkontinent".
The name "Pangea" occurs in the 1920 edition of Die Entstehung der
Kontinente und Ozeane, but only once, when Wegener refers to the
ancient supercontinent as "the
Pangaea of the Carboniferous".
Wegener used the Germanized form "Pangäa", but the name entered
German and English scientific literature (in 1922 and 1926,
respectively) in the Latinized form "Pangaea" (of the Greek
"Pangaia"), especially due to a symposium of the American Association
of Petroleum Geologists in November 1926.
The forming of supercontinents and their breaking up appears to have
been cyclical through Earth's history. There may have been many others
before Pangaea. The fourth-last supercontinent, called Columbia or
Nuna, appears to have assembled in the period 2.0–1.8 Ga.
Columbia/Nuna broke up and the next supercontinent, Rodinia, formed
from the accretion and assembly of its fragments.
Rodinia lasted from
about 1.1 billion years ago (Ga) until about 750 million years ago,
but its exact configuration and geodynamic history are not nearly as
well understood as those of the later supercontinents,
Rodinia broke up, it split into three pieces: the supercontinent
of Proto-Laurasia, the supercontinent of Proto-Gondwana, and the
smaller Congo craton.
Proto-Gondwana were separated
by the Proto-Tethys Ocean. Next
Proto-Laurasia itself split apart to
form the continents of Laurentia,
Siberia and Baltica.
to the east of Laurentia, and
Siberia moved northeast of Laurentia.
The splitting also created two new oceans, the
Iapetus Ocean and
Paleoasian Ocean. Most of the above masses coalesced again to form the
relatively short-lived supercontinent of Pannotia. This supercontinent
included large amounts of land near the poles and, near the equator,
only a relatively small strip connecting the polar masses. Pannotia
lasted until 540 Ma, near the beginning of the
and then broke up, giving rise to the continents of Laurentia,
Baltica, and the southern supercontinent of Gondwana.
Cambrian period, the continent of Laurentia, which would later
become North America, sat on the equator, with three bordering oceans:
Panthalassic Ocean to the north and west, the
Iapetus Ocean to the
south and the
Khanty Ocean to the east. In the Earliest Ordovician,
around 480 Ma, the microcontinent of
Avalonia – a landmass
incorporating fragments of what would become eastern Newfoundland, the
southern British Isles, and parts of Belgium, northern France, Nova
Scotia, New England, South Iberia and northwest
Africa – broke free
Gondwana and began its journey to Laurentia. Baltica,
Avalonia all came together by the end of the Ordovician
to form a minor supercontinent called
Euramerica or Laurussia, closing
the Iapetus Ocean. The collision also resulted in the formation of the
Siberia sat near Euramerica, with the Khanty
Ocean between the two continents. While all this was happening,
Gondwana drifted slowly towards the South Pole. This was the first
step of the formation of Pangaea.
The second step in the formation of
Pangaea was the collision of
Gondwana with Euramerica. By the Silurian, 440 Ma,
already collided with Laurentia, forming Euramerica.
Avalonia had not
yet collided with Laurentia, but as
Avalonia inched towards Laurentia,
the seaway between them, a remnant of the Iapetus Ocean, was slowly
shrinking. Meanwhile, southern
Europe broke off from
began to move towards
Euramerica across the newly formed Rheic Ocean.
It collided with southern
Baltica in the Devonian, though this
microcontinent was an underwater plate. The Iapetus Ocean's sister
ocean, the Khanty Ocean, shrank as an island arc from
Baltica (now part of Euramerica). Behind this island arc
was a new ocean, the Ural Ocean.
By the late Silurian, North and South China split from
started to head northward, shrinking the
Proto-Tethys Ocean in their
path and opening the new
Paleo-Tethys Ocean to their south. In the
Gondwana itself headed towards Euramerica, causing
Rheic Ocean to shrink. In the Early Carboniferous, northwest
Africa had touched the southeastern coast of Euramerica, creating the
southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains, the Meseta Mountains
and the Mauritanide Mountains.
South America moved northward to
southern Euramerica, while the eastern portion of
Antarctica and Australia) headed toward the South Pole from the
equator. North and South China were on independent continents. The
Kazakhstania microcontinent had collided with Siberia. (
been a separate continent for millions of years since the deformation
of the supercontinent
Pannotia in the Middle Carboniferous.)
Kazakhstania collided with
Baltica in the Late Carboniferous,
Ural Ocean between them and the western Proto-Tethys in
them (Uralian orogeny), causing the formation of not only the Ural
Mountains but also the supercontinent of Laurasia. This was the last
step of the formation of Pangaea. Meanwhile,
South America had
collided with southern Laurentia, closing the
Rheic Ocean and forming
the southernmost part of the
Appalachians and Ouachita Mountains. By
Gondwana was positioned near the South Pole and glaciers
were forming in Antarctica, India, Australia, southern
South America. The
North China block collided with
Siberia by the Late
Carboniferous, completely closing the Proto-Tethys Ocean.
By the early Permian, the
Cimmerian plate split from
headed towards Laurasia, thus closing the Paleo-Tethys Ocean, but
forming a new ocean, the Tethys Ocean, in its southern end. Most of
the landmasses were all in one. By the
Triassic Period, Pangaea
rotated a little and the
Cimmerian plate was still travelling across
the shrinking Paleo-Tethys, until the Middle Jurassic. The
Paleo-Tethys had closed from west to east, creating the Cimmerian
Orogeny. Pangaea, which looked like a C, with the new Tethys Ocean
inside the C, had rifted by the Middle Jurassic, and its deformation
is explained below.
Evidence of existence
The distribution of fossils across the continents is one line of
evidence pointing to the existence of Pangaea.
Fossil evidence for
Pangaea includes the presence of similar and
identical species on continents that are now great distances apart.
For example, fossils of the therapsid
Lystrosaurus have been found in
India and Antarctica, alongside members of the
Glossopteris flora, whose distribution would have ranged from the
polar circle to the equator if the continents had been in their
present position; similarly, the freshwater reptile
been found in only localized regions of the coasts of
Brazil and West
Additional evidence for
Pangaea is found in the geology of adjacent
continents, including matching geological trends between the eastern
South America and the western coast of Africa. The polar ice
cap of the
Carboniferous Period covered the southern end of Pangaea.
Glacial deposits, specifically till, of the same age and structure are
found on many separate continents that would have been together in the
continent of Pangaea.
Paleomagnetic study of apparent polar wandering paths also support the
theory of a supercontinent. Geologists can determine the movement of
continental plates by examining the orientation of magnetic minerals
in rocks; when rocks are formed, they take on the magnetic properties
Earth and indicate in which direction the poles lie relative to
the rock. Since the magnetic poles drift about the rotational pole
with a period of only a few thousand years, measurements from numerous
lavas spanning several thousand years are averaged to give an apparent
mean polar position. Samples of sedimentary rock and intrusive igneous
rock have magnetic orientations that are typically an average of the
"secular variation" in the orientation of magnetic north because their
remanent magnetizations are not acquired instantaneously. Magnetic
differences between sample groups whose age varies by millions of
years is due to a combination of true polar wander and the drifting of
continents. The true polar wander component is identical for all
samples, and can be removed, leaving geologists with the portion of
this motion that shows continental drift and can be used to help
reconstruct earlier continental positions.
The continuity of mountain chains provides further evidence for
Pangaea. One example of this is the
Appalachian Mountains chain, which
extends from the southeastern
United States to the
Ireland, Britain, Greenland, and Scandinavia.
Rifting and break-up
Animation of the rifting of Pangaea
There were three major phases in the break-up of Pangaea. The first
phase began in the Early-
Middle Jurassic (about 175 Ma), when Pangaea
began to rift from the
Tethys Ocean in the east to the
Pacific in the
west. The rifting that took place between
North America and Africa
produced multiple failed rifts. One rift resulted in a new ocean, the
North Atlantic Ocean.
Atlantic Ocean did not open uniformly; rifting began in the
north-central Atlantic. The
South Atlantic did not open until the
Laurasia started to rotate clockwise and moved
North America to the north, and
Eurasia to the south.
The clockwise motion of
Laurasia led much later to the closing of the
Tethys Ocean and the widening of the "Sinus Borealis", which later
became the Arctic Ocean. Meanwhile, on the other side of
along the adjacent margins of east Africa,
Antarctica and Madagascar,
new rifts were forming that would lead to the formation of the
Indian Ocean that would open up in the Cretaceous.
The second major phase in the break-up of
Pangaea began in the Early
Cretaceous (150–140 Ma), when the minor supercontinent of
Gondwana separated into multiple continents (Africa, South America,
India, Antarctica, and Australia). The subduction at Tethyan Trench
probably caused Africa,
Australia to move northward, causing
the opening of a "South Indian Ocean". In the Early Cretaceous,
South America and Africa, finally separated from
India and Australia). Then in the Middle
Gondwana fragmented to open up the South
Atlantic Ocean as
South America started to move westward away from Africa. The South
Atlantic did not develop uniformly; rather, it rifted from south to
Also, at the same time,
India began to separate from
Antarctica and moved northward, opening up the Indian Ocean.
India separated from each other 100–90 Ma in the
India continued to move northward toward
15 centimeters (6 in) a year (a plate tectonic record), closing
the eastern Tethys Ocean, while
Madagascar stopped and became locked
to the African Plate. New Zealand,
New Caledonia and the rest of
Zealandia began to separate from Australia, moving eastward toward the
Pacific and opening the
Coral Sea and Tasman Sea.
The third major and final phase of the break-up of
Pangaea occurred in
Paleocene to Oligocene).
Laurasia split when North
America/Greenland (also called Laurentia) broke free from Eurasia,
Norwegian Sea about 60–55 Ma. The Atlantic and
Indian Oceans continued to expand, closing the Tethys Ocean.
Australia split from
Antarctica and moved quickly
northward, just as
India had done more than 40 million years before.
Australia is currently on a collision course with eastern Asia. Both
India are currently moving northeast at
5–6 centimeters (2–3 in) a year.
Antarctica has been
near or at the South Pole since the formation of
India started to collide with
Asia beginning about
35 Ma, forming the Himalayan orogeny, and also finally closing
the Tethys Seaway; this collision continues today. The African Plate
started to change directions, from west to northwest toward Europe,
South America began to move in a northward direction, separating
Antarctica and allowing complete oceanic circulation around
Antarctica for the first time. This motion, together with decreasing
atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, caused a rapid cooling of
Antarctica and allowed glaciers to form. This glaciation eventually
coalesced into the kilometers-thick ice sheets seen today. Other
major events took place during the Cenozoic, including the opening of
the Gulf of California, the uplift of the Alps, and the opening of the
Sea of Japan. The break-up of
Pangaea continues today in the Red Sea
Rift and East African Rift.
Tectonic plate shift
The breakup of
Pangaea over time
Pangaea's formation is now commonly explained in terms of plate
tectonics. The involvement of plate tectonics in Pangaea's
separation helps to show how it did not separate all at once, but at
different times, in sequences. Additionally, after these separations,
it has also been discovered that the separated land masses may have
also continued to break apart multiple times. The formation of each
environment and climate on
Pangaea is due to plate tectonics, and
thus, it is as a result of these shifts and changes different climatic
pressures were placed on the life on Pangaea. Although plate tectonics
was paramount in the formation of later land masses, it was also
essential in the placement, climate, environments, habitats, and
overall structure of Pangaea.
What can also be observed in relation to tectonic plates and Pangaea,
is the formations to such plates. Mountains and valleys form due to
tectonic collisions as well as earthquakes and chasms.
Consequentially, this shaped
Pangaea and animal adaptations.
Furthermore, plate tectonics can contribute to volcanic activity,
which is responsible for extinctions and adaptations that have
evidently affected life over time, and without doubt on Pangaea.
Example of an ammonite
For the approximately 160 million years
Pangaea existed, many species
had fruitful times whereas others struggled. The Traversodontidae
is an example of such prospering animals, eating a diet of only
plants. Plants dependent on spore reproduction had been taken out of
the ecosystems, and replaced by the gymnosperm plant, which reproduces
through the use of seeds instead. Later on, insects (beetles,
dragonflies, mosquitos) also thrived during the
Permian period 299 to
252 million years ago. However, the
Permian extinction at 252 Mya
greatly impacted these insects in mass extinction, being the only mass
extinction to affect insects. When the
Triassic Period came, many
reptiles were able to also thrive, including Archosaurs, which were an
ancestor to modern-day crocodiles and birds.
Little is known about marine life during the existence of Pangaea.
Scientists are unable to find substantial evidence or fossilized
remains in order to assist them in answering such questions. However,
a couple of marine animals have been determined to have existed at the
time - the Ammonites and Brachiopods. Additionally, evidence pointing
towards massive reefs with varied ecosystems, especially in the
species of sponges and coral, have also been discovered.[citation
Climate change after Pangaea
Pangaea has tremendously affected the setup of the world now. In the
Pangaea time period, the reconfiguration of continents and oceans
has changed the climate of many areas. There is scientific evidence
that proves that climate was drastically altered. When the continents
separated and reformed themselves, it changed the flow of the oceanic
currents and winds. The scientific reasoning behind all of the changes
is Continental Drift. The theory of Continental Drift, created by
Alfred Wegener, explained how the continents shifted Earth’s surface
and how that affected many aspects such as climate, rock formations
found on different continents and plant and animal fossils.
Wegener studied plant fossils from the frigid Arctic of Svalbard,
Norway. He determined that such plants were not meant to adapt to a
glacial climate. The fossils he found were from tropical plants that
were meant to adapt and thrive in warmer and tropical climate.
Because we would not assume that the plant fossils were capable of
traveling to a different place we suspect that
Svalbard possibly had a
warmer, less frigid climate in the past.
Pangaea separated, the reorganization of the continents changed
the function of the oceans and seaways. The restructuring of the
continents, changed and altered the distribution of warmth and
coolness of the oceans. When
North America and South America
connected, it stopped equatorial currents from passing from the
Atlantic Ocean to the
Pacific Ocean. Researchers have found
evidence by using computer hydrological models to show that this
strengthened the Gulf Stream by diverting more warm currents towards
Europe. Warm waters at high latitudes led to an increased evaporation
and eventually atmospheric moisture. Increased evaporation and
atmospheric moisture resulted in increased precipitation. Evidence of
increased precipitation is the development of snow and ice that covers
Greenland, which led to an accumulation of the icecap. Greenland’s
growing ice cap led to further global cooling. Scientists also
found evidence of global cooling through the separation of Australia
Antarctica and the formation of the Antarctic Ocean. Ocean
currents in the newly formed Antarctic or Southern Ocean created a
circumpolar current. The creation of the new ocean that caused a
circumpolar current eventually led to atmospheric currents that
rotated from west to east. Atmospheric and oceanic currents stopped
the transfer of warm, tropical air and water to the higher latitudes.
As a result of the warm air and currents moving northward, Antarctica
cooled down so much that it became frigid.
Although many of Alfred Wegener’s theories and conclusions were
valid, scientists are constantly coming up with new innovative ideas
or reasoning behind why certain things happen. Wegener’s theory of
Continental Drift was later replaced by the theory of tectonic
Implications of extinction
There is evidence to suggest that the deterioration of northern
Pangaea contributed to the
Permian Extinction, one of Earth’s five
major mass extinction events, which resulted in the loss of over 90%
of marine and 70% of terrestrial species. There were three main
sources of environmental deterioration that are believed to have had a
hand in the extinction event.
The first of these sources is a loss of oxygen concentration in the
ocean, which caused deep water regions called the lysocline to grow
shallower. With the lysocline shrinking, there were fewer places for
calcite to dissolve in the ocean, considering calcite only dissolves
at deep ocean depths. This led to the extinction of carbonate
producers such as brachiopods and corals that relied on dissolved
calcite to survive. The second source is the eruption of the Siberian
Traps, a large volcanic event that is argued to be the result of
Pangaean tectonic movement. This had several negative
repercussions on the environment, including metal loading and excess
atmospheric carbon. Metal loading, the release of toxic metals from
volcanic eruptions into the environment, led to acid rain and general
stress on the environment. These toxic metals are known to infringe on
vascular plants’ ability to photosynthesize, which may have resulted
in the loss of Permian-era flora. Excess carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere is believed to be the main cause of the shrinking of
The third cause of this extinction event that can be attributed to
Pangaea is the beginnings of anoxic ocean environments, or
oceans with very low oxygen concentrations. The mix of anoxic oceans
and ocean acidification due to metal loading led to increasingly
acidic oceans, which ultimately led to the extinction of benthic
North America portal
South America portal
History of the Earth
List of supercontinents
Potential future supercontinents:
PANGAEA, a data library for earth system science, operated by the
Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI)
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Continents of the world
Possible future supercontinents
Mythical and hypothesised continents
See also Regions of the world