According to a new study from Curtin University, Earth’s next supercontinent: Amasia, will form when the Pacific Ocean closes in 200 to 300 million years. Scientists used a supercomputer to simulate the formation of supercontinents.
They discovered that since the Earth has been cooling for billions of years, the plates that support the oceans are thinning and weakening over time. This makes it more difficult for the next supercontinent to form by closing “young” oceans, such as the Atlantic or Indian oceans.
The Pacific Ocean is what remains of the super Panthalassa Ocean, which began to form 700 million years ago when the ancient supercontinent began to break up. Since the time of the dinosaurs, when it was the largest, this ocean, the oldest we have on Earth, has been gradually shrinking.
It is currently shrinking by a few centimeters per year, and its current size of around 10,000 kilometers is expected to take 200 to 300 million years to close.
Lead author Dr Chuan Huang, from Curtin’s Earth Dynamics Research Group and School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said the new discoveries were significant and provided information about what would happen to Earth over the next 200 million years.
“Over the past 2 billion years, Earth’s continents have collided to form a supercontinent every 600 million years, known as the supercontinent cycle. This means that the current continents will come together again in a few hundred million years.
The new supercontinent was previously named Amasia because some believe the Pacific Ocean will close (as opposed to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans) when America collides with Asia. Australia is also expected to play a role in this critical Earth event, first colliding with Asia and then connecting America and Asia once the Pacific Ocean closes.
“By simulating the expected evolution of the Earth’s tectonic plates using a supercomputer, we were able to show that in less than 300 million years, it is probably the Pacific Ocean that will close, allowing the formation of Amasia, debunking some previous scientific theories.
Co-author John Curtin, Professor Emeritus Zheng-Xiang Li, also of Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said that having the entire world dominated by a single landmass would drastically alter Earth’s ecosystem and environment.
“Earth as we know it will look dramatically different when Amasia forms. Sea levels are expected to be lower and the vast interior of the supercontinent will be very arid with high daily temperature ranges,” Professor Li said.
“Currently, the Earth consists of seven continents with very different ecosystems and human cultures, so it would be fascinating to think about what the world might look like in 200 to 300 million years.”
- Chuan Huang et al, Will Earth’s Next Supercontinent Assemble Through the Closing of the Pacific Ocean?, National Science Review (2022). DOI: 10.1093/nsr/nwac205