• Scientists used supercomputer modeling to predict that Earth will become home to a new supercontinent in less than 300 million years.
  • In modeling the trending changes to patterns of oceans and continents, scientists believe the supercontinent Amasia will form.
  • The Pacific Ocean is shrinking about one inch per year, and Australia is also moving toward Asia.

Scientists say the Pacific Ocean, the world’s oldest ocean, is shrinking about one inch per year. In a mere 200 to 300 million years, they claim, North America will collide with Asia, gifting us the new supercontinent of “Amasia.”

Researchers have long held theories about what’s known as the supercontinent cycle. Over billions of years, Earth’s continents have collided together roughly every 600 million years and then broken apart again, giving us past supercontinents like Columbia, Rodinia, and Pangaea. Now, scientists at Curtin University in Australia posit that our next supercontinent cycle will occur due to the “closing” of the Pacific Ocean. They published their work late last month in the journal National Science Review.

“By simulating how the Earth’s tectonic plates are expected to evolve using a supercomputer, we were able to show that in less than 300 million years’ time it is likely to be the Pacific Ocean that will close, allowing for the formation of Amasia, debunking some previous scientific theories,” Chuan Huang, lead author, says in a news release.

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The Pacific Ocean is believed to be the remnant of the Panthalassa super ocean that started forming 700 million years ago when the previous supercontinent started shattering. It has been shrinking ever since, the study’s authors say.

One of the most-discussed theories in supercontinent research is the creation of these masses via either introversion or extroversion. During introversion, younger oceans, such as the Atlantic or Indian, close. Extroversion signifies the closure of the older Pacific Ocean.

With the Pacific Ocean receding about an inch per year, pushing North America westward, the world’s oldest ocean is the one that will lead us toward a supercontinent, as opposed to other prevailing theories that state the Atlantic or Indian oceans will determine the next supercontinent, the authors say.

Their computer model uses the weakening strength of the Earth’s oceanic lithosphere (the stiff top layer due to Earth’s cooling) as a key differentiator in the movement of continents, increasing the likelihood of extroversion leading to Amasia.

“Amasia could only have an extroversion assembly through the closure of the Pacific Ocean due to the weakening of the oceanic lithosphere with time,” the authors say in the study. “This predicts that the next supercontinent Amasia could only be assembled through the closure of the Pacific Ocean.”

A possible Amasia configuration 280 million years into the future.
Curtin University

And while North America moves toward Asia, so does Australia, at about 2.8 inches per year.

Zheng-Xiang Li, co-author of the paper, says moving toward another supercontinent will have profound implications on Earth’s ecosystem and environment.

“Earth as we know it will be drastically different when Amasia forms,” he says in the release. “The sea level is expected to be lower, and the vast interior of the supercontinent will be very arid with high daily temperature ranges. Currently, Earth consists of seven continents with widely different ecosystems and human cultures, so it would be fascinating to think what the world might look like in 200 to 300 million years’ time.”