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Evidence falls into place for once and future supercontinents

From Nuna to Amasia, researchers are finding new clues to supercontinent comings and goings

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8:38am, January 11, 2017
illustration of Amasia

SUPERCONTINENT SUPERPUZZLE  Supercontinents come and go over the ages. Amasia, illustrated here from the North Pole, might form in the distant future.

Look at any map of the Atlantic Ocean, and you might feel the urge to slide South America and Africa together. The two continents just beg to nestle next to each other, with Brazil’s bulge locking into West Africa’s dimple. That visible clue, along with several others, prompted Alfred Wegener to propose over a century ago that the continents had once been joined in a single enormous landmass. He called it Pangaea, or “all lands.”

Today, geologists know that Pangaea was just the most recent in a series of mighty super-continents. Over hundreds of millions of years, enormous plates of Earth’s crust have drifted together and then apart. Pangaea ruled from roughly 400 million to about 200 million years ago. But wind the clock further back, and other supercontinents emerge. Between 1.3 billion and 750 million years ago, all the

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