SCIENCE

Earth Tectonic Plate Simulation Reveals Our Planet Has Changed A LOT In 200 Million Years

03/27/2015 01:52 pm ET

Just how much has Earth changed since its Pangea days? You might be surprised.

Of course, our planet hasn't always had seven continents. Deep in our planet's geological past, Earth's crust was just one giant supercontinent called Pangea, which broke apart into separate land masses around 200 million years ago.

Now scientists have detailed the remarkable transformation of our planet's surface in a new, eye-popping computer model -- which provides tantalizing insight into how the land on Earth breaks apart and skitters about. Just check it out above.

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The mesmerizing model simulates the movement of Earth's tectonic plates, which are continent-sized slabs of rock on Earth's surface that shift about to create mountains, volcanoes, and earthquake zones. The tectonic movements are shown frame-by-frame in 1-million-year increments, Science magazine reported.

“It turns out that plates can change their motion (speed and direction) over geologically short periods of time, about 1 million years," Sabin Zahirovic, a geodynamicist at the University of Sydney in Australia, who led the computer model research, told the magazine. “Which means that if you have a snapshot over 20 million years, you can easily miss an important regional or global plate reorganization.”

Next, Zahirovic said that he and his colleagues plan to reconstruct how plates moved before the breakup of Pangea.

A paper describing the new research was published online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters on March 12, 2015.

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