According to a new study by Curtin University, Earth’s next supercontinent: Amasia, will form when the Pacific Ocean closes in 200 to 300 million years. Scientists used a supercomputer to simulate how supercontinents form.
They found- since the Earth has been cooling for billions of years, the plates that support the oceans are becoming thinner and weaker over time. This makes it more challenging for the next supercontinent to form by closing the “young” oceans, such as the Atlantic or Indian oceans.
The Pacific Ocean is what has left of the Panthalassa super ocean, which began to form 700 million years ago when the former supercontinent started to break apart. Since the time of the dinosaurs, when it was at its largest, this ocean, the oldest one we have on Earth, has been gradually getting smaller.
It is currently shrinking by a few centimeters per year, and its current dimension of about 10 thousand kilometers is predicted to take 200 to 300 million years to close.
Lead author Dr. Chuan Huang, from Curtin’s Earth Dynamics Research Group and the School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said the new findings were significant and provided insights into what would happen to Earth in the next 200 million years.
“Over the past 2 billion years, Earth’s continents have collided to form a supercontinent every 600 million years, known as the supercontinent cycle. This means the current continents will come together again in a couple of hundred million years.”
The new supercontinent has already been named Amasia because some believe that the Pacific Ocean will close (as opposed to the Atlantic and Indian oceans) when America collides with Asia. Australia is also expected to play a role in this critical Earth event, first colliding with Asia and then connecting America and Asia once the Pacific Ocean closes.
“By simulating how the Earth’s tectonic plates are expected to evolve using a supercomputer, we were able to show that in less than 300 million years, it is likely to be the Pacific Ocean that will close, allowing for the formation of Amasia, debunking some previous scientific theories.”
Co-author John Curtin Distinguished Professor Zheng-Xiang Li, also from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said that having the whole world dominated by a single continental mass would dramatically alter Earth’s ecosystem and environment.
“Earth as we know it will be drastically different when Amasia forms. The sea level is expected to be lower, and the vast interior of the supercontinent will be very arid with high daily temperature ranges,” Professor Li said.
“Currently, Earth consists of seven continents with widely different ecosystems and human cultures, so it would be fascinating to think what the world might look like in 200 to 300 million years.”
- Chuan Huang et al, Will Earth’s next supercontinent assemble through the closure of the Pacific Ocean?, National Science Review (2022). DOI: 10.1093/nsr/nwac205