Word of the day: Pangaea

Pangaea was the supercontinent that existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras about 250 million years ago before the component continents were separated into their current configuration.

The name was coined in the scientific discussion of Alfred Wegener’s theory of the continental drift. The term Pangaea appeared in 1928 during a symposium to discuss Wegener’s theory.

The theory of continental drift has now been totally replaced by the notion of plate tectonics but there is growing evidence to substantiate the view that all continents were once linked together.

Further information here.


  • Nick

    I don’t think plate tectonics has replaced continental drift; rather, plate tectonics is one of the mechanisms underlying (pun intended!) continental drift. See Plate Tectonics and Continental Drift.

  • Roger Darlington

    Good point, Nick.

    Perhaps I was overly influenced by the comment by Richard Dawkins in “The Greatest Show On Earth”: “I must make it clear that his hypothesis [that of Alfred Wegener] of continental drift was significantly different from our modern theory of plate tectonics.”

    The Wikipedia page on continental drift states: “.. it is now accepted that the continents do move across the Earth’s surface – though more in a driven mode than the aimlessness suggested by ‘drift’ “.

    So I guess that the theory of continent movement has been confirmed but the notion of drift is now discredited and the mechanism for movement is now known to be plate tectonics.

  • Nick

    Good points, Roger.

    As you say, it seems the “continental drift” (with no convincing mechanism) proposed by Wegener has been superseded by a “continental drift” (driven by plate tectonics), which might perhaps be renamed so that it doesn’t confuse non-geologists!

  • Philip

    Roger, is this on your list of the countries you have visited? 😉

  • Roger Darlington

    Not yet – but, if the weather in Britain stays this cold, may go there soon!

  • Ben

    Just thought you might be interested in my two cents. I am a Geography major and I have studied this phenomenon over my degree. There is a cycle called the Wilson cycle which occurs every 500 million years, which will see the continents go from a fully interconnected land mass on one side of the earth to a similar landmass on the opposite side due to continental drift. We are currently half way through a cycle, so our land masses are spread about the face of the earth, in 250 million years however, they will have reformed exactly opposite where pangaea once was. This cycle has probably occurred around 5/6 times in the history of our planet.


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