Link #20: Even the Continents Know How to Move!

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Chain of Facts - A Connection of Facts

Link #20: Even the Continents Know How to Move!

3D earth globe
3D earth globe on white background displaying some of the USA, Europe and Africa. By M4D GROUP cc2.0

Our world is a strange place. When a fungus can grow over 2384 acres (10 square kilometers) and become one of the largest organisms on the planet (as we described in our last post), anything can happen in it. So, it should not surprise you when we say that the land that you stand on, eat on, sleep on, go to school on, play on, and in every other way live on, actually moves around just like you!

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Do Continents Really Move?

Snider Pellegrini Wegener fossil map
Evidence of continental ‘drift’. Image credit: Osvaldocangaspadilla

You’re probably wondering why you can’t feel them moving, and doubting the whether they really do move. It is true that the continents are always moving. In fact, they’ve been moving since our planet first came into being. The only reason that you can’t sense their movement is that they’re moving extremely slowly.

Different land masses are moving at different speeds. Their speed of movement depends entirely on the forces that are moving them. For example, the North American continent and the continent of Europe are moving away from each other by about one inch (two and a half centimeters) every year.


How Is It That the Continents Are Moving?

Tectonic plates movement
Tectonics Plates and its movements translated to Portuguese. Image credit: USGS/Modified by Eurico Zimbres

We live on continents and the continents rest upon tectonic plates. Tectonic plates are huge pieces of solid rock that, themselves, rest upon semi-solid and flowing molten rock.

Because of this they are moved about by a wide variety of factors, such as pressure, heat, friction and even gravitational influences from the moon. These factors keep moving the masses of land apart and together in cycles of billions of years.


What Were the Continents Like Millions of Years Ago?

Pangaea physical map
Physical map of the supercontinent Pangaea, 237 million years ago. By Dropzink cc2.5

The continents move together and then move apart over billions of years. Before the continents got to the places we know them today, they were combined into one huge land mass. This huge land mass or supercontinent was called Pangaea, which existed about 240 million years ago. Pangaea is a Greek word which means “all lands”.


Where Are the Continents Going?

In the next 100 million years, it is expected that the African land mass will be split into two at the Great Rift Valley, which is growing wider even as you read this! North America will probably lose California in a similar separation, with California becoming an island.

South America will also open up to contain a body of water in the middle, while India will become smaller, and the Oceanic region will merge with Asia. Moreover, Greenland is expected to disappear and Antarctica expected to lose a lot of its snow and ice.
You don’t have to worry about this, however. One hundred million years is a really long time, and humanity itself will probably be greatly different by that point.




Can you Guess the Next Link in the Chain?

What will be the next link in our Chain of Facts? Think you might know? Scroll down to add a comment below with your best guess.

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You can view the full list of links in the chain here.


Sources:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGcDed4xVD4
http://io9.com/5744636/a-geological-history-of-supercontinents-on-planet-earth
http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/continental-drift/?ar_a=1
http://www.theguardian.com/science/shortcuts/2013/jun/09/supercontinent-world-moving-together

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