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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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Effects of Continents and Supercontinents on Climate

Effects of Continents and Supercontinents on Climate

(p.159) 11 Effects of Continents and Supercontinents on Climate
Continents and Supercontinents

John J.W. Rogers

M. Santosh

Oxford University Press

Continents affect the earth’s climate because they modify global wind patterns, control the paths of ocean currents, and absorb less heat than seawater. Throughout earth history the constant movement of continents and the episodic assembly of supercontinents has influenced both global climate and the climates of individual continents. In this chapter we discuss both present climate and the history of climate as far back in the geologic record as we can draw inferences. We concentrate on longterm changes that are affected by continental movements and omit discussion of processes with periodicities less than about 20,000 years. We refer readers to Clark et al. (1999) and Cronin (1999) if they are interested in such short-term processes as El Nino, periodic variations in solar irradiance, and Heinrich events. The chapter is divided into three sections. The first section describes the processes that control climate on the earth and includes a discussion of possible causes of glaciation that occurred over much of the earth at more than one time in the past. The second section investigates the types of evidence that geologists use to infer past climates. They include specific rock types that can form only under restricted climatic conditions, varieties of individual fossils, diversity of fossil populations, and information that the 18O/16O isotopic system can provide about temperatures of formation of ancient sediments. The third section recounts the history of the earth’s climate and relates changes to the growth and movement of continents. This history takes us from the Archean, when climates are virtually unknown, through various stages in the evolution of organic life, and ultimately to the causes of the present glaciation in both the north and the south polar regions. The earth’s climate is controlled both by processes that would operate even if continents did not exist and also by the positions and topographies of continents. We begin with the general controls, then discuss the specific effects of continents, and close with a brief discussion of processes that cause glaciation. The general climate of the earth is determined by the variation in the amount of sunshine received at different latitudes, by the earth’s rotation, and by the amount of arriving solar energy that is retained in the atmosphere.

Keywords:   Albedo, British coal basins, Cascade Mountains, Deserts, Eccentricity, Glacial periods, Illinois coal basin, Lapse rate, Mesozoic climate

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