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Continents and Supercontinents$
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John J. W. Rogers and M. Santosh

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195165890

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195165890.001.0001

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History of Continents after Rifting from Pangea

History of Continents after Rifting from Pangea

(p.147) 10 History of Continents after Rifting from Pangea
Continents and Supercontinents

John J.W. Rogers

M. Santosh

Oxford University Press

As continents moved from Pangea to their present positions, they experienced more than 100 million years of geologic history. Compressive and extensional stresses generated by collision with continental and oceanic plates formed mountain belts, zones of rifting and strike-slip faulting, and magmatism in all of these environments. In this chapter we can only provide capsule summaries of this history for each of the various continents, but many of their salient features have been discussed as examples of tectonic processes in earlier chapters. The final section analyzes the breakup of Pangea as part of the latest cycle of accretion and dispersal of supercontinents. Because it involves continuation of this cycle into the future, it is necessarily very speculative. Figure 10.1 shows approximate patterns of movement of each continent from its position in Pangea to the present. The dominant feature of this pattern is northward movement of all continents except Antarctica, which has remained over the South Pole for more than 250 million years. Shortly after geologists recognized the concept of continental drift, this movement was referred to by the German word “Polflucht” (flight from the pole) because all of the continents were seen to be fleeing from the South Pole. The only continent that did not simply move northward was Eurasia, which essentially rotated clockwise and changed its orientation from north–south to east–west. Comparison of fig. 10.1 with fig. 8.12a (locations of continents shortly before the assembly of Gondwana) shows that the net effect of the last 580 million years of earth history has been a transfer of most continental crust from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere. Accretion and compression against the southern margin of Eurasia constructed a series of mountain belts from the Pyrenees in the west to the numerous ranges of Southeast Asia in the east. This collision generated extensional and transtensional forces that opened rifts and pull-apart basins. Tectonic loading created foreland basins with sediment thicknesses of several kilometers. Opposite the area where the collision of India caused the most intense compression, the extensional basins are interspersed with mountain ranges that were lifted up intracontinentally. We divide the discussion of Eurasia into a section where compression dominates to the south (present orientation) of the former margin of Pangea and a section that describes processes within the landmass to the north.

Keywords:   Africa, Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Elburz Mountains, Himalaya, India, Kunlun Range, Lake Nyos, New Guinea

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