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For other uses, see Pangaea (disambiguation).

Map of Pangaea with modern continental outlines.

Pangaea or Pangea (/pndi/ [1]) was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic
and early Mesozoic eras.[2] It assembled from earlier continental units approximately 300 million
years ago, and it began to break apart about 175 million years ago.[3] In contrast to the present
Earth and its distribution of continental mass, much of Pangaea was in the southern hemisphere
and surrounded by a super ocean, Panthalassa. Pangaea was the last supercontinent to have
existed and the first to be reconstructed by geologists.


1 Origin of the concept

2 Formation of Pangaea

3 Evidence of existence

4 Rifting and break-up

5 See also

6 References

7 External links

Origin of the concept

The name is derived from Ancient Greek pan (, "all, entire, whole") and Gaia (, "Mother
Earth, land").[4][9] The concept was first proposed by Alfred Wegener, the originator of the theory
of continental drift, in his 1912 publication The Origin of Continents (Die Entstehung der
Kontinente).[10] He expanded this hypothesis into his theory in his book The Origin of Continents
and Oceans (Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane), first published in 1915, 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 first 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".[11] Wegener used the
Germanized form "Panga", but the term entered German and English scientific literature (in
1922[12] 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.[13]

Formation of Pangaea

Appalachian orogeny
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 2.01.8 Ga.[14]
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, Pannotia and Pangaea.

When Rodinia broke up, it split into three pieces: the supercontinent of Proto-Laurasia, the
supercontinent of Proto-Gondwana, and the smaller Congo craton. Proto-Laurasia and ProtoGondwana were separated by the Proto-Tethys Ocean. Next Proto-Laurasia itself split apart to
form the continents of Laurentia, Siberia and Baltica. Baltica moved 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 Cambrian period and then broke up,
giving rise to the continents of Laurentia, Baltica, and the southern supercontinent of Gondwana.
In the Cambrian period, the continent of Laurentia, which would later become North America,
sat on the equator, with three bordering oceans: the 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, Iberia and northwest Africa broke free from Gondwana and began
its journey to Laurentia.[16] Baltica, Laurentia, and 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 northern Appalachians. 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
The second step in the formation of Pangaea was the collision of Gondwana with Euramerica. By
Silurian time, 440 Ma, Baltica had 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 Gondwana and 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 Siberia collided with eastern Baltica (now part of Euramerica).
Behind this island arc was a new ocean, the Ural Ocean.
By late Silurian time, North and South China split from Gondwana and started to head
northward, shrinking the Proto-Tethys Ocean in their path and opening the new Paleo-Tethys
Ocean to their south. In the Devonian Period, Gondwana itself headed towards Euramerica,
causing the 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,
and the Meseta Mountains. South America moved northward to southern Euramerica, while the
eastern portion of Gondwana (India, 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. (Siberia had been a separate continent for millions of
years since the deformation of the supercontinent Pannotia in the Middle Carboniferous.)

Western Kazakhstania collided with Baltica in the Late Carboniferous, closing the 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 this time, Gondwana was positioned near the South Pole and glaciers were
forming in Antarctica, India, Australia, southern Africa and South America. The North China
block collided with Siberia by Late Carboniferous time, completely closing the Proto-Tethys
By Early Permian time, the Cimmerian plate split from Gondwana and 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 time. 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 South Africa, India and Australia, 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 Mesosaurus has been found in only
localized regions of the coasts of Brazil and West Africa.[18]
Additional evidence for Pangaea is found in the geology of adjacent continents, including
matching geological trends between the eastern coast of 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 which would have been together in the continent of Pangaea.[19]
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 of the 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
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
Caledonides of Ireland, Britain, Greenland, and Scandinavia.[21]

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 EarlyMiddle Jurassic (about 175 Ma), when Pangaea began to rift from the Tethys Ocean in the east to
the Pacific in the west, ultimately giving rise to the supercontinents Laurasia and Gondwana. 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.[22]
The Atlantic Ocean did not open uniformly; rifting began in the north-central Atlantic. The South
Atlantic did not open until the Cretaceous when Laurasia started to rotate clockwise and moved
northward with North America to the north, and Eurasia to the south. The clockwise motion of
Laurasia led to the closing of the Tethys Ocean. Meanwhile, on the other side of Africa and along
the adjacent margins of east Africa, Antarctica and Madagascar, new rifts were forming that

would not only lead to the formation of the southwestern Indian Ocean but also open up in the
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). About 200 Ma, the continent of
Cimmeria, as mentioned above (see "Formation of Pangaea"), collided with Eurasia. However, a
subduction zone was forming, as soon as Cimmeria collided.[22]
This subduction zone is called the Tethyan Trench. This trench might have subducted what is
called the Tethyan mid-ocean ridge, a ridge responsible for the Tethys Ocean's expansion. It
probably caused Africa, India and Australia to move northward. In the Early Cretaceous,
Atlantica, today's South America and Africa, finally separated from eastern Gondwana
(Antarctica, India and Australia), causing the opening of a "South Indian Ocean". In the Middle
Cretaceous, 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 north.
Also, at the same time, Madagascar and India began to separate from Antarctica and moved
northward, opening up the Indian Ocean. Madagascar and India separated from each other 100
90 Ma in the Late Cretaceous. India continued to move northward toward Eurasia at 15
centimeters (6 in) a year (a plate tectonic record), closing the 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 the early Cenozoic
(Paleocene to Oligocene). Laurasia split when North America/Greenland (also called Laurentia)
broke free from Eurasia, opening the Norwegian Sea about 6055 Ma. The Atlantic and Indian
Oceans continued to expand, closing the Tethys Ocean.
Meanwhile, Australia split from Antarctica and moved rapidly northward, just as India had done
more than 40 million years before. Australia is currently on a collision course with eastern Asia.
Both Australia and India are currently moving northeast at 56 centimeters (23 in) a year.
Antarctica has been near or at the South Pole since the formation of Pangaea about 280 Ma. 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, and South America began to move in a
northward direction, separating it from 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.[23] 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.

See also

History of the Earth

Supercontinent cycle

List of supercontinents

Potential future supercontinents: Pangaea Ultima, Novopangaea & Amasia

PANGAEA, a data library for earth system science, operated by the Alfred Wegener
Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI)

Oxford Dictionaries
Lovett, Richard A (September 5, 2008). "Supercontinent Pangaea Pushed, Not Sucked,
Into Place". National Geographic News.
Plate Tectonics and Crustal Evolution, Third Ed., 1989, by Kent C. Condie, Pergamon
"Pangaea". Online Etymology Dictionary.
Vergilius Maro, Publius. Georgicon, IV.462
Lucan. Pharsalia, I.679
Lewis, C.T. & al. "Pangaeus" in A Latin Dictionary. (New York), 1879.
Usener, H. Scholia in Lucani Bellum Civile, Vol. I. (Leipzig), 1869.
As "Pangaea", it appears in Greek mythology as a mountain battle site during the
Titanomachia. As "Pangaeus", it was the name of a specific mountain range in southern Thrace.
"Pangaea" also appears in Vergil's Georgics[5] and Lucan's Pharsalia[6][7] The scholiast on Lucan
glossed Pangaea id est totum terra"Pangaea: that is, all land"as having received its name
on account of its smooth terrain and unexpected fertility.[8]
Alfred Wegener: Die Entstehung der Kontinente. Dr. A. Petermann's Mitteilungen aus
Justus Perthes' Geographischer Anstalt, 58(1): Gotha 1912

Wegener, Alfred, Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane, 2nd ed. (Braunschweig,
Germany: F. Vieweg, 1920), p. 120. From p. 120: "Schon die Panga der Karbonzeit hatte
so einen Vorderrand " [Already the Pangea of the Carboniferous era had such a leading
edge ] (In the 1922 edition, see p. 130.)

Wegener, A.; Krause, R.; Thiede, J. (2005). "Kontinental-Verschiebungen:

Originalnotizen und Literaturauszge" (Continental drift: the original notes and

quotations). Berichte zur Polar- und Meeresforschung (Reports on Polar and Marine
Research) 516. Alfred-Wegener-Institut: Bremerhaven, p. 4, n. 2
Erich Jaworski: Die A. Wegenersche Hypothese der Kontinentalverschiebung.
Geologische Rundschau, 13: 273-296, Berlin 1922. Online bei digizeitschriften.de
Willem A. J. M. van Waterschoot van der Gracht (and 13 other authors): Theory of
Continental Drift: a Symposium of the Origin and Movements of Land-masses of both InterContinental and Intra-Continental, as proposed by Alfred Wegener. X + 240 S., Tulsa,
Oklahoma, USA, The American Association of Petroleum Geologists & London, Thomas Murby
& Co.
Zhao, Guochun; Cawood, Peter A.; Wilde, Simon A.; Sun, M. (2002). "Review of global
2.11.8 Ga orogens: implications for a pre-Rodinia supercontinent. Earth-Science Reviews, v. 59,
p. 125162".
Zhao, Guochun; Sun, M.; Wilde, Simon A.; Li, S.Z. (2004). "A Paleo-Mesoproterozoic
supercontinent: assembly, growth and breakup. Earth-Science Reviews, v. 67, p. 91123".
Stanley, Steven (1998). Earth System History. USA. pp. 355359.
Stanley, Steven (1998). Earth System History. USA. pp. 386392.
Benton, M.J. Vertebrate Palaeontology. Third edition (Oxford 2005), 25.
Barbara W. Murck, Brian J. Skinner, Geology Today: Understanding Our Planet, Study
Guide, Wiley, ISBN 978-0-471-32323-5
Philip Kearey, Keith A. Klepeis, Frederick J. Vine (2009). Global Tectonics (3rd. ed),
p.6667. Chichester:Wiley. ISBN 978-1-4051-0777-8
Zeeya Merali, Brian J. Skinner, Visualizing Earth Science, Wiley, ISBN 978-0-47041847-5
Zeeya Merali, Brian J. Skinner, Visualizing Earth Science, Wiley, ISBN 978-0-47041847-5

Nature 421, pp245249 (16 January 2003)


External links
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Look up Pangaea in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

USGS Overview

Map of Triassic Pangaea at Paleomaps

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Geological history of Earth

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Plate tectonics


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