50 years ago, scientists dug into Pangaea’s past lives

Excerpt from the September 30, 1972 issue of Science News

Image of Pangaea

In the 1970s, scientists wondered whether any supercontinents existed before Pangaea (illustrated). Today, we know there were at least two, and researchers are exploring what supercontinent might come next.

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Before Pangaea — What? Science News, September 30, 1972

The continents as we know them resulted when the proto­continent Pangaea broke apart and its fragments made the long slow journey to their present positions. The process took about 200 m­illion years. But the Earth’s crust is an estimated 4.5 billion years old.… [Scientists are exploring] the perplexing p­roblem of what went on during the billions of years before Pangaea went to pieces.


The continents have an on-again, off-again relationship that has existed since well before Pangaea, fossil and rock evidence shows. Most scientists agree that the earliest known supercontinent, called Nuna, formed around 1.5 billion years ago. It broke apart and reunited as the supercontinent Rodinia about 1 billion years ago. A third supercontinent called Pannotia may have formed roughly 600 million years ago near the South Pole, but its existence is debated. Today, scientists are predicting how continents will merge in the future. A supercontinent dubbed Amasia could form 250 million years from now as the continents drift toward the North Pole (SN: 1/21/17, p. 18).

Erin I. Garcia de Jesus is a staff writer at Science News. She holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Washington and a master’s in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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