The future is bleak. Meditating on Pangea gives me hope

Human passion to extract combustible materials from the earth and reduce them to ashes may well be the end of us. But it is not clear who the “us” is. Not you and me, of course; we’ll be lucky to see 2100. But “we” can’t just mean our direct descendants, can it? Does that have to mean hominids? Maybe humans in the distant future don’t even need to have blood or DNA to count as survivors. In hundreds of millions of years, we primates could live in our components: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. We could have some kind of immortality of the elements.

Unlike the endangered biosphere, the earth’s crust and mantle, which are loaded with many basic human ingredients, show no signs of decline. In fact, they’re experiencing a climax: erupting, crushing, migrating, and bursting in unpredictable ways. Recent data also indicates that the plaques are preparing something supremely strange: to take a quiet step towards reunification. Like staring at the stars, gazing at Earth’s so-called deep future with a new supercontinent can mitigate bleak, shorter-term climate predictions.

In about 200 million years, our distant continents could meet. While progress towards Pangea Proxima, the next Pangea, is slow, it is also measurable. Seismologists have found that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a mountain range at the bottom of the ocean that separates North America from Europe and Africa, is expanding about as fast as fingernails grow , widening the Atlantic Ocean at a rate of about 4 centimeters per year. Meanwhile, the Nazca, a plate off the west coast of Peru, appears to be moving faster, at the speed at which hair grows, which could shut off the Pacific.

Of course, the chance of humans existing to verify the prediction is essentially zero. But to study the deep future is to recognize that flora and fauna, including human fauna, can be actors in the unfathomable intergalactic drama of chemicals.

Eons ahead, therefore, Earth cartographers and scientists observe continental drift and fantasize about new worlds. “Amasia” is the name of a hypothetical supercontinent formed when Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe and Australia merge around the North Pole. An even deeper hypothesis, which could take 250 million years, is called “Aurica”, the coalescence of the seven continents, including Antarctica, around the equator. It will undoubtedly be useful if the next Pangeas are named in advance, so that the rocks have something to be called.

Last January, British seismologists based at the University of Southampton on the south coast of England – Southampton was the illustrious port of departure for the Mayflower and the RMS Titanic (so they care about geological oceanography) – have found new ways to observe mantle convection, some 400 miles below the earth’s crust and over a thousand miles from its core. The material is booming there. As the plates separate along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, material rises to fill the space between them. As the team reported in an article published in Nature, these surges could push the tectonic plates upward and help push the continents apart (that is, since it’s a sphere we’re talking about, closer to the back).

About Lucille Thompson

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