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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

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lfred Wegener, in 1912, proposed that all land masses of the world had formed from one super\u2013continent, called

Pangaea (Fig. 5.1). The super-continent,

Pangaea had evolved some 280 million years ago, at the end of the Carboniferous Period and by mid-Jurassic, 150 million years ago, Pangaea had split into a northern continent called Laurasia, and a southern continent called Gondwanaland. About 65 million years ago, i.e. at the end of Cretaceous, Gondwanaland further broke up to give rise to several other continents such as South America, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica (Fig. 5.2). India broke apart and followed an independent route moving towards northeast.

EVIDENCE OF MOVEMENT OF CONTINENTS

There are evidences that suggest the existence of Pangaea. The ancient mountain belt, 470 to 350 million years old, were created by a continuous belt of geological activity. These mountains are now separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Some fossils also tell us that the continents were once joined. For example, fossils of the plantG l o s s o p t e r i s and the animalsMesosurus andL ystr osaurus have all been found on all continents of Gondwanaland that are now widely separated.

Geological Matching

Significant observation is the occurrence of gold deposits within river alluvium in the Ghana coast (Africa) and the absolute absence of source rocks in that region. However, across 5,000 km wide ocean, there are gold-bearing veins in Belen Sau in Brazil (South America) but no gold deposits within alluvium in the adjacent coastal belt. Placing Africa and South America together, the solution emerges with stunning effectiveness. The gold bearing sediments were transported down the slope in

A
ORIGIN OF CONTINENTS AND OCEANS
CHAPTER
Fig.5.1 : Wegener\u2019s Map of Continental Drift \u2014
Fitting of the Continents Bordering the
Atlantic Ocean
26
FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY
27
Fig.5.2 : Formation of Present Day Continents from Pangaea \u2014 Five Stages of the Break-Up
Arrows indicate the direction of the movement of the lithospheric plates.
Brazil and deposited in the belt which is today
the Ghana coast.
Palaeoclimatic Unity
Thick glacial deposits of Permo-Carboniferous
age are exposed at Uruguay and Brazil in

South America, Africa, south India, south Australia and Tasmania. The uniformity in the nature of sediment indicates that these continents/countries were together in the geological past and experienced similar climatic conditions. Today, these countries are

ORIGIN OF CONTINENTS AND OCEANS
60\u00b0N
30\u00b0N
0\u00b030\u00b0S
60\u00b0S
60\u00b0N
30\u00b0N
0\u00b0
30\u00b0S
60\u00b0S
60\u00b0N
30\u00b0N
0\u00b0
30\u00b0S
60\u00b0S
28
FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

situated in various types of climatic zones, from temperate to tropical and are widely separated from each other by large oceans.

Similarly, corals thrive in warm waters between the latitudes 300N and 300S. However, remnants of some corals found on the continents away from the region strengthen the view that these continents were nearer to the equator in the geological past. The continents have moved northwards and are experiencing cold and frigid climatic conditions today.

Polar Wandering

One of the strongest line of evidence that the continents were formerly united in Pangaea came from palaeomagnetism. The magneti-cally susceptible minerals such as magnetite, haematite, ilmenite, pyrrhotite in lava/magma and unconsolidated sediments have the tendency to align themselves parallel to the magnetic field prevailing at that time. This property is retained in the rocks as permanent magnetism. There has been periodic change in the position of magnetic pole that is recorded in rocks by way of permanent magnetism. Unraveling the signatures of such changes in the geologically old rocks by scientific methods provides the changing position of poles in geological time scale. This is known aspolar

wandering. The polar wandering clearly

demonstrates that the continents have frequently moved and changed directions of their motion from time to time.

SEA FLOOR SPREADING

The present distribution of the continents has taken place in the last 65 million years. The drift of continents still continues. The ridges down the middle of ocean floors have been emitting lava actively (Fig. 5.3). These mid- oceanic ridges, are cracks on the floor of ocean where molten rocks push up to form new crust. The crust spreads away from the ridge and the ocean basin widens. This phenomena is known as Sea Floor Spreading. The Atlantic Ocean is getting wider by several centimetres a year, the Pacific Ocean is getting smaller, and the Red Sea is part of a crack in the crust that

will widen to produce a new ocean millions of years in future. The widening South Atlantic Ocean has separated Africa and South America.

PLATE THEORY

According to the global plate tectonic theory, the lithosphere is broken into a number of moderately rigid plates (Fig.5.4). The plates move continuously and have relative direction

Fig.5.3 : Stages in Continental Rupture and the
Opening-Up of a New Ocean Basin

The vertical scale is exaggerated to emphasise
surface features.
A. The crust is uplifted and stretched apart causing it
to break into blocks that become tilted on faults;
B. A narrow ocean is formed between the faults;
and C. The ocean basin widens.

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