About 250 million years ago, scientists believe the seven continents of the world were connected into one supercontinent known as Pangaea. The East coast of South America seems to fit perfectly like a puzzle piece into the Western coast of Africa. And if North America could be slightly rotated, it would comfortably fit next to Europe and Asia.
Ancient fossil records show that the same animals and plants once lived along the Eastern coast of South America, as did along the Western coast of Africa. The same plants and animals also lived along the coasts of Europe and North America.
During the millions of years that followed the connection of all the continents, they began to break apart and slowly drift away from one another. The drift of the continents continues today and in the future, the location of the continents will once again change.
The meaning of the word Pangaea comes from the Ancient Greeks and means 'all land'. The supercontinent existed at the time of the dinosaurs. The crashing together of the continents resulted in the formation of many mountain ranges across the planet. The Appalachian Mountains in North America and the Ural Mountains on the boundary of Europe and Asia are the results of some of these collisions.
The supercontinent was shaped like a giant letter C, and it spread across the equator and extended from the North to the South Pole, meaning a person could walk from pole to pole without stepping into the ocean. The formation began about 540 million years ago during the late Cambrian time period and then finished about 200 to 250 million years ago during the Triassic period. Scientists believe Pangaea's climate was much drier and hotter than it is currently.
In the beginning, life did exist, but it was not the same as today. Most of life included single-celled organisms like bacteria. By the time Pangaea completed its formation during the Triassic period, life flourished in the oceans and spread from water to the land. The first dinosaurs also evolved during the Triassic period, and because there was just one giant piece of land, scientists found the fossils of the same Triassic animals and plants on every continent. The break-up of the continents, as they are today, began during the middle of the Jurassic time period about 175 million years ago. It was at this time when many well-known dinosaurs existed.
The first phase of the Pangaea's break-up resulted into supercontinents Laurasia and Gondwana before each of these large continents eventually broke into the current continents of today and a new ocean was formed, the North Atlantic Ocean.
The second phase began when Gondwana separated into Africa, South America, India, Antarctica, and Australia during the Lower Cretaceous period about 150 million years ago.
Finally, the third and final phase of the break-up occurred in the early Cenozoic period. About 60 million years ago. Laurasia split when North America and Greenland (also called Laurentia) broke free from Eurasia, opening the Norwegian Sea. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans continued to expand. The break-up of Pangaea continues today in the Great Rift Valley in East Africa and Arabia.
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