While it may feel as if the land beneath our feet is stable and fixed, we are in fact constantly moving atop seven major tectonic plates.
These tectonic plates, which in simple terms are large slabs of rock that divide Earth’s crust, only shift a few inches a year, so it’s impossible to ever notice the ongoing movement (except when colliding plates suddenly slip to cause an earthquake, of course).
But imagine if we could map out these snail-like movements to see how much Earth has changed over the last billion years.
Well, thanks to the work of a team of geoscientists at the University of Sydney in Australia, now we can.
Using data gathered from scientists based around the world, the team spent four years processing the data to build a mind-blowing video (below) showing a billion years of tectonic plate movement condensed into the space of just 40 seconds, with the current geographical layout only recognizable at the very end.
A report on the University of Sydney’s website said the effort to track the plates’ movements over such a lengthy period of time “provides a scientific framework for understanding planetary habitability and for finding critical metal resources needed for a low-carbon future.”
The researchers also noted how tectonics impact the evolution of life, with the continents acting as “rafts” carrying evolving species that mix when continents combine.
Professor Dietmar Müller, co-author and academic leader of the university’s EarthByte geosciences group that created the video, said: “Our team has created an entirely new model of Earth evolution over the last billion years.”
The professor added that the team’s work will help explain how Earth “became habitable for complex creatures. Life on Earth would not exist without plate tectonics. With this new model, we are closer to understanding how this beautiful blue planet became our cradle.”
Another co-author, Dr. Michael Tetley, told Euronews: “For the first time, a complete model of tectonics has been built, including all the boundaries.”
The scientist added: “On a human timescale, things move in centimeters per year, but as we can see from the animation, the continents have been everywhere in time.”
Tetley highlighted the point by noting how the freezing cold, inhospitable continent of Antarctica “was once quite a nice holiday destination at the equator.”
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