Ever wonder what prehistoric Earth looked like before the earliest dinosaurs lived? Thanks to a group of brilliant geologists and pioneering technology, it’s possible to map and peek into the past some 500 years ago before the planet’s evolution.
According to a Quartz report, scientists who study ancient geological formations agree that landmasses today were once part of a supercontinent known as Pangaea. A minority of thinkers delved deeper and believed another great body called Rodinia predated Pangaea and continents were separated again before reforming, long after the Big Bang.
The theory about prehistoric Earth’s appearance focuses on the geological phenomena of tectonic plate movement. Experts believe that over time, layers of rock and sediment overlapped and the heat generated from the planet’s natural cooling and heating processes facilitated movement.
Here, the Sydney group has created a visual on the movement of Pangaea.
Earthquakes and tsunamis are often referred to when speaking about modern-day shifts in the surface and underbody. By coupling this knowledge with rock and mineral composition, scientists created a virtual model of ancient Earth dating back 530 years ago.
For reference, the earliest-known dinosaur, Nyasasaurus parringtoni, lived about 240 million years ago during the Triassic period, according to Live Science.
By using cutting edge desktop software, researchers, led by Dietmar Mueller from the University of Sydney, have managed to turn back time, so to speak, and study the early formation of prehistoric Earth by using plate-tectonics interactive visualization.
According to its website, “GPlates offers a novel combination of interactive plate-tectonic reconstructions, geographic information system (GIS) functionality and raster data visualization.” Some large oil companies use the technology to help locate deep fossil fuel reserves.
— Prof Ray Wills (@ProfRayWills) January 2, 2016
The technology runs on several popular computer operating systems: Linux, Windows and MacOs X. The interactivity is amazing; it allows a user to manipulate the data and observe how some subtle to dramatic changes take place in ancient Earth over a geological span of time.
Like other modern supercomputers, it uses a matrix of algorithms and intelligent processes to create a visual construct of early Earth.
The paleontologists encountered difficulty during their study of planetary movement. The simplest answers manifested in the form of different rocks found around the world. The quest was to find their prehistoric origins and make a connection.
In turn, they could trace their natural pathways. The trouble was that research members couldn’t find all supporting evidence. Therefore, portions of the ancient Earth map are based on educated guesses using established laws of science.
Visual conclusions were drawn based on the consensus that tectonic plates move no more than eight inches every year, do not revolve in only tens of millions of years and don’t exhibit abrupt movements.
Mueller enlisted the help of Andrew Merdith, a Ph.D. student and expert in tectonics. His role was to help construct and map Rodinia. Referencing the established body of knowledge on plate movements frames most of his work. After assigning a part of the planet that spans over millions of years, he proceeds to another region and repeats the process, as he explained.
“It’s baby steps. You do a little bit each day, and it doesn’t feel like you do much. Then you look back after a few months, and you have a model that is coming together nicely.”
In keeping with the inherent nature of tinkering, Mueller and his group are not putting a lid on their research with the latest developments. They intend to continue probing until they can map an even earlier appearance of prehistoric Earth: the continent of Kenorland.
They believe this was the first super landmass that formed some 2.4 billion years ago. If successful, their plans will take them to the next logical progressive regression: the origins of multicellular life forms.
[Featured image via: GPlates/Earthbytes screenshot]