Amasia: The Next Supercontinent

April 14, 2012

Researchers predict the formation of a new supercontinent that will form as America and Asia fuse. Courtesy of Nature.

Yale Geology and Geophysics Ph.D. candidate Ross Mitchell and other Yale researchers have developed a new model of how Earth’s continents will shift over the next several million years, and the result is a supercontinent they are naming Amasia.

Their model comes from a new dominant theory, called orthoversion, about how these supercontinents form. It predicts that continents will shift 90 latitudinal degrees away from their original continental ancestors. Amasia will form when America and Asia fuse at the North Pole, located approximately 90 degrees north of where the previous supercontinent, Pangaea, formed around 300 million years ago. Pangaea itself was 90 degrees away from its predecessor, Rodinia, which was preceded by Nuna 2 billion years ago.

The orthoversion pattern was discovered by analyzing ancient paleomagnetic data from over the past few billion years to understand how the Earth’s crust and mantle shift around the liquid outer core — a process distinct from plate tectonics, which analyzes how individual plates shift and interact with each other. Orthoversion replaces the previously held theories of introversion, where supercontinents form in the same place, and extroversion, where supercontinents shift 180 degrees to the opposite side of the globe.

Mitchell, the primary author of the research published in Nature, said the theory has great implications for the future of geology. “Now that we have a clear picture of what the supercontinent cycle actually looks like, we can begin to answer the questions of why the supercontinent cycle operates as it does,” said Mitchell. The research team predicts Amasia will form within the next 50 to 200 million years.