EarthByter Andrew Merdith, Alan Collins from the Univ. of Adelaide and colleagues produced an animated plate tectonic map that changes the history of our planet as we know it. Of course it’s not just an animation, it’s an elaborate computer model that took years to be built, assimilating tons of geological and geophysical observations, in a massive collaborative effort. It tracks continents and plate boundaries from 1000 to 520 million years ago – for the first time. To unravel this incredible history, scientists use a range of different techniques to determine when and where continents moved, how life evolved, how climate changed over time, when our oceans rose and fell, and how land was shaped. Tectonic plates — the huge, constantly moving slabs of rock that make up the outermost layer of the Earth, the crust — are central to all these studies. The time range is crucial. It’s a period when the Earth went through the most extreme climate swings known, from “Snowball Earth” icy extremes to super-hot greenhouse conditions, when the atmosphere got a major injection of oxygen and when multicellular life appeared and exploded in diversity. Now with this first global map of plate tectonics through this period, we (and others) can start to assess the role of plate tectonic processes on other Earth systems and even address how movement of structures deep in our Earth may have varied over a billion-year cycle.
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