Even without the implications and other scientific explanations surrounding this animation of the long history of how the Earth’s tectonic plates moved around, the animation is still very pleasing to watch. However, the animation is a result of the efforts of scientists, as they combined magnetic data and geological data to create the high-fidelity simulation:
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In the past decade, similarly painstaking plate tectonics reconstructions have been made but only for limited windows of geologic time. This is the first time this type of full-blown plate tectonics reconstruction has been assembled for an uninterrupted fifth of Earth’s history.
“A lot of things we look at and care about in the present day are dependent on 10- to 100-million-year time cycles in plate tectonics,” said Andrew Merdith, a geoscientist at the Claude Bernard University Lyon 1 in France and the study’s lead author. By looking further back in time, more cycles are revealed, allowing scientists to unravel the planetary-scale processes that made the world we live in today.
“Plate tectonics is that really big picture that you can put other things into,” said Lucía Pérez-Díaz, a structural geologist and tectonics expert at the University of Oxford who was not involved with the work. And a lot of things have happened in the past billion years that this new recreation can help contextualize.
It includes the time Earth was a giant snowball 700 million years ago; the proliferation of complex animal life 540 million years ago; the greatest mass extinction in Earth’s history 252 million years ago; the evolution of flowering plants 130 million years ago; the creation of the Himalayas 45 million years ago; and — right at the last geologic second — the appearance of modern humans.
Its scientific uses aside, the animation also resonates with people on a visceral level.
“It’s quite hypnotic,” Dr. Pérez-Díaz said, “even for me, and I see them all the time.”
Image via the New York Times