Quick Notes:

  • Pangea existed a long, long time ago.

  • It took almost 100 million years to break apart.

  • Life as we know it began partly because of Pangea.

Before there were seven continents, there was just one continent the organisms of the world called home – Pangea. The one-world landmass continent existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. As the planet’s sole landmass, it was surrounded not by the multiple oceans known today, but by a single, enormous superocean.

The supercontinent formed millions of years ago

Here’s what we know. Roughly 300 million years ago, the supercontinent of Pangea was formed due to slow shifts in tectonic plates and mantle convection. Continents that are now scattered across the globe were pushed together into a single landmass.

Pixabay

What caused it to break apart?

The supercontinent began to break apart 70 million years after it was formed. It has been theorized that the same rift that brought the continents together caused the Pangea to separate. However, that may not be the only cause. In combination with the mantle rifts, the opening and closing of ocean basins could have contributed to what was happening,

How does this work? When an ocean basin opens and closes, mantle material begins to rise and squeeze itself into it. If the opening and closing happen across a large amount of land and for a long enough time, the entire continent will break apart. This could be one of the reasons why the continents today look somewhat like puzzle pieces scattered across the world.

Pangea wasn’t a lifeless continent

Pangea was full of life, even while it was undergoing massive changes. As the landmass was surrounded by such a large ocean, much of the life that existed during the time of Pangea was sea life.

Organisms and ancient sea animals made their homes across the shallow waters of the ocean coastline. Plantlife also flourished, along with different types of bacteria. Because of the drastic shifting of continents during that time, the organisms that did manage to survive had to practice their adaptability to their environment.

How did animals adapt? Some animals evolved to produce eggshells, allowing their young a better chance to survive and the beginning of sea-to-land amphibians began. Birds were the luckiest while the formation and deformation of Pangea because of their grand ability to adapt to their conditions. Over time, life began to go inland from the shallow waters of the ocean and flourished all across the great continent.

The continental shift contributed to the world as we know it.

Because of the early animals’ ability to adapt, new lifeforms began to evolve. Early mammals, the first birds, insects, reptiles, and fungi all started on Pangea. This also eventually led to the evolution of the human species. The shift in the supercontinent breaking apart massively influenced how animals and plants evolved over the years.

The splitting apart of the continent even contributed to lower water levels, in turn leading to a more habitable world for all living creatures.

Of course, evolution isn’t finished yet, either. Not by a long shot. The process is ongoing, with some scientists saying that subduction is still actively occurring beneath the Pacific ocean causing a basin to close under the weight of water and sediment, pushing the plate under the continental crust.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101: