The future of plate tectonics

2008-08-27

in Geek stuff, Science, The outdoors

The PALEOMAP project has created some interesting projections of how the continents will be arranged in the distant future. Fifty million years out, Africa will have pushed into Europe, eliminating the Mediterranean. In 100 million years, all the continents will be drawing together. In 250 million years, only two landmasses will be left: a combination of Australia and Antarctica near the south pole and North and South America massed with Eusasia and Africa around a central sea.

The projections may prove entirely incorrect, but it is nonetheless remarkable to see the world thus transformed. It is a reminder of just how variable the world is, over long time horizons.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

tristan August 27, 2008 at 9:31 pm

“It is a reminder of just how variable the world is, over long time horizons.”

What does this say about the relation of permanence and time? Permanent endurance finds its expression in form (i.e. the form of a song remains throughout many playings and hearings by different bands, despite many particularities shifting). Form (concept) is our way of grasping the world intellectually (as opposed to say, feet, being our way of grasping the world ambulantly). Form corresponds to its essence when it finds permanence in the world, but that finding may be partially or entirely due to the human time horizon with which it encounters it. A eonic being (one that lives for say, millions of years), may have much less use for form or permanence in its worldly existence. What kind of notion of endurance might it have?

emily r horn August 28, 2008 at 12:19 am

It’s also neat to think about the kind of evolution that the species alive today will undergo.

I wonder if the chordate kingdom will fall under a mutant race of giant arthropods.

Arthropods II: Shelling it Out at PayBack Time…

.. or, whatever.

Litty August 28, 2008 at 8:34 am

Will our plutonium still be around for this?

Litty August 28, 2008 at 8:38 am

Also, it is going to be awfully hard for the US to keep out Mexicans once the two continents get completely smushed together.

Milan August 28, 2008 at 9:54 am
Milan August 28, 2008 at 10:01 am

A eonic being (one that lives for say, millions of years), may have much less use for form or permanence in its worldly existence. What kind of notion of endurance might it have?

For such a being, continental drift might be like the seasons for us, with individual years seeming like the invisible flickering of a movie projector.

It’s also neat to think about the kind of evolution that the species alive today will undergo.

Most definitely. It is also remarkable to consider all the creatures that have endured such shifts in the past. Turtles have been around for 215 million years, since the early Triassic Period of the Mesozoic era.

Will our plutonium still be around for this?

Only a bit of it. When it comes to the kind of plutonium used in bombs, half will vanish every 24,100 years. After just five million years, 1000kg of plutonium will have become just 4.86 x 10^(-60)kg.

Also, it is going to be awfully hard for the US to keep out Mexicans once the two continents get completely smushed together.

The maps certainly make one think again about the politics of space. Just consider a world where ‘Africa’ and ‘Europe’ no longer meaningfully exist. These kinds of maps certainly draw into question notions about the eternally special character of particular bits of terrain. Jerusalem and Mecca will get moved around and refolded just as much as anywhere else.

Milan August 28, 2008 at 10:04 am
Milan February 16, 2009 at 6:00 pm

One neat thing about these illustrations is this thought: we all contain genes that date back to before each of the historical periods shown here. They are thus more enduring than the arrangement of continents.

We have only discovered a handful of rock formations that have persisted from the Hadean eon, such as the the Acasta gneiss in the Northwest Territories. And yet, all the genes we share with plants and bacteria date back to that time. Living things are thus a far more durable template than rock formations.

. July 17, 2009 at 10:35 am

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