Have you heard of continental drift? The ground under your very feet is moving! Here in Australia, we’re moving about 7 centimetres north every year. In a few million years, we could run into Southeast Asia. But what about the far future, 300 million years away?
We can’t just extend the current drift patterns. Continents sometimes slow down, speed up, or change direction. Scientists are looking for better ways to predict those changes.
New research led by Curtin University scientists has some big predictions for our continents. And they’re using oceans as their evidence.
Focus on oceans
When continents move, one ocean grows while another shrinks. Predicting which is which might unlock clues to Earth’s future.
Earth’s oceans come in 2 different groups. In one group, there are the young oceans. The Indian and Atlantic Oceans were created as the supercontinents of Gondwana and Laurasia broke apart around the time of the dinosaurs. In the other group, there’s the Pacific Ocean, an old remnant of the Panthalassic Ocean, which once covered 70% of Earth’s surface.
To see which oceans will survive, the team used a supercomputer to create a simulation of an Earth-like planet.
As well as continents and oceans, the Earth-like simulation has lots of underground details, including slowly flowing mantle and all the other things that move deep inside our planet.
What were the results? It’s bad news for the Pacific. It turns out that rocks under old oceans aren’t as strong as those under newer oceans. That means America may eventually drift into Asia, and surround Australia. This will create a new supercontinent that scientists have called Amasia.
So in 300 million years’ time, Earth could once again have just one continent and one giant ocean, until that continent breaks up and the cycle repeats again.