Supercontinent: how the world is moving together
Our planet used to be made up of one huge land mass. And it will be again (in a few million years), with Australia heading for Asia and North Africa on a collision course with Europe.
This year is the 50th anniversary of one of 20th-century science’s most important discoveries – the revelation that the land below us is on the move; that the continents we live on are creeping across the globe.
In September 1963, two Cambridge geophysicists – Fred Vine and Drummond Mathews – interpreted a zebra-like magnetic striping of the Pacific ocean floor as the result of a conveyor belt of new crust spreading out of submarine volcanic ridges. That idea of oceans spreading quickly became a central plank in the theory of a mobile Earth. Plate tectonics revealed to scientists that the static geography depicted in every world map is a mere planetary snapshot – the latest freeze-frame in a drama that has played out on the surface of Earth for billions of years.