BENTLEY, Australia, April 28 (UPI) -- Researchers in Australia, Canada and the United States are looking into the possibility of a supercontinent once again amalgamating amid the world's oceans.
Some 300 million years ago, the planet's continents came together to form one giant island called Pangea. About 100 million years later, Pangea began breaking apart -- each continent drifting toward their current positions.
Could it happen again? And if so, when? What would it look like? These are the questions researchers hope to answer as they begin a five-year research project. Through their efforts, scientists hope to better understand the Earth's evolutionary 'supercycles' -- the paths and rotations of its tectonic plates and deep mantle.
"The project will assemble a multidisciplinary team of hundreds of scientists and research students from around the world to establish new concepts, tools, maps and global databases to assist the modelling of global changes and the discovery of new Earth resources," Zheng-Xiang Li, a professor of geology at Curtin University Institute of Geoscience Research, explained in a press release.
Researchers believe they already know the basic answer to their central question. It's likely, they say, that the Earth will know a supercontinent again in the future. The Pacific Ocean gets narrower by a few centimeters every year, while the Atlantic is widening at a similar rate.
"If such a trend continues, within the next one or two hundred million years, the Pacific Ocean would close up to bring the Americas to collision with the Eurasian continent," Li said, "while the Australian continent is set to join this future supercontinent 'Amasia,' by moving around seven centimeters per year toward Asia."
Li was a key researcher in the work that showed Pangea was likely preceded by a smaller supercontinent dubbed Rodinia. He hopes the new project will help scientists paint a more comprehensive picture of the cycles involved continental drift.
"We will mainly model how the tectonic plates interact with the deep Earth in a dynamic way, present and in the past, with cyclic supercontinents and superplumes possibly being the consequence of such a dynamic system," Li added.
Funding for the project was recently approved by UNESCO and the International Union for Geological Sciences. Li and his colleagues will present their research plans next month at an international conference in Montreal.