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Pangaea

OLogy Series
geology
card
255

Pangaea

OLogy Series
geology

If you look at a map, the coasts of South America and Africa seem to fit together like puzzle pieces. That's because about 200 million years ago, all the continents on Earth were joined together into one huge supercontinent called Pangaea. Over time, the processes of plate tectonics slowly broke this massive landmass into smaller pieces that spread out to form the continents we know today.

In 1915, German scientist Alfred Wegener suggested Pangaea broke apart to form the continents we see today. He called his theory:

continental drift

magma motion

plate tectonics

Are you right?

Correct!

At the time, people thought Wegener's theory was ridiculous. Today, scientists know continents move because of plate tectonics, the motion of the giant plates that make up the Earth's crust.

The shape of the continents was not the only evidence to support the idea of a supercontinent. Scientists had also discovered:

matching fossils of plants and animals in South America and Africa

identical bands of rock deposits in North America and Europe

both

Are you right?

Correct!

These rocks and fossils are evidence to prove that the continents were once connected.

"Pangaea" means:

"across the earth"

"all earth"

"big panhandle"

Are you right?

Correct!

Pangaea means "all earth." Alfred Wegner first used this name when he proposed his theory of continental drift in his 1915 book, On the Origin of Continents and Oceans.

Rondi Davies, Earth scientist

If the continents today were joined like Pangaea, all the people on the Earth would be living on one big, continuous continent. What do you think it would be like?

Pangaea was probably not the first supercontinent to form in the history of the Earth.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Scientists believe the continents have come together and spread apart at least three times before. That's not hard to imagine since the Earth is 4.5 billion years old.

Definition: a supercontinent made of all of the Earth's landmasses
When it existed: about 200 million years ago
Proposed by: Alfred Wegner in 1915
Cool fact: Scientists have found tropical plant fossils in polar regions and signs of glaciers in arid regions of Africa. These different climate zones are evidence that the continents are moving.

Image credits: Eric Hamilton; Rondi Davies, AMNH.