This map lets you plug in your address to see how it’s changed over the past 750 million years During the Early Triassic Epoch, Washington, D.C. was situated in a massive supercontinent called Pangea. (Ian Webster/Ancient Earth/Flickr)
This map lets you plug in your address to see how it’s changed over the past 750 million years
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Some 240 million years ago, a patch of land would one day become the National Mall. That land was part of an enormous supercontinent known as Pangea. Encompassing nearly all of Earth's extant land mass, Pangea bore little resemblance to our contemporary planet. Thanks to a recently released interactive map, however, interested parties can now superimpose the political boundaries of today onto the geographic formations of yesteryear. That is, those dating back to 750 million years ago.

The results are intriguing. Take the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for example. During the Early Triassic Epoch it was wedged almost directly adjacent to Mauritania. It was yet to be separated from the Northwest African country by the vast waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Ancient Earth is the tool behind this millennia-spanning visualization. It is the brainchild of Ian Webster, curator of the world's largest digital dinosaur database. As Michael D'estries reports for Mother Nature Network, Webster drew on data from the PALEOMAP Project. It was spearheaded by palaeogeographer Christopher Scotese. The initiative tracks the evolving "distribution of land and sea" over the past 1,100 million years-to build the map.

Users can input a specific address or more generalized region, such as a state or country. Then they choose a date ranging from zero to 750 million years ago. Currently, the map offers 26 timeline options. These travel back from the present to the Cryogenian Period at intervals of 15 to 150 million years.

According to Gizmodo's George Dvorsky, Ancient Earth includes an array of helpful navigational features. These include toggle display options related to globe rotation, lighting and cloud coverage. Brief descriptions of chosen time periods pop up on the bottom left side of the screen. A dropdown menu at the top right allows users to jump to specific milestones in history. These include the arrival of Earth's first multicellular organisms some 600 million years ago and early hominids' relatively belated emergence around 20 million years ago.

To switch from one time period to another, you can either manually choose from a dropdown menu or use your keyboard's left and right arrow keys. Start at the very beginning of the map's timeline, Michele Debczak advises for Mental Floss. He says you'll see the planet evolve from "unrecognizable blobs of land" to the massive supercontinent of Pangea. Eventually you'll see the seven continents we inhabit today.

Fast Company's Jesus Diaz outlines several insights revealed by Ancient Earth. For instance, 750 million years ago, Midtown Manhattan was situated at the center of a giant icy landmass. A description on the side of the map explains. 

"Glaciers may have covered the entire planet during the [Cryogenian Period], the greatest ice age known on Earth." 

Flash forward to 500 million years ago, Debczak adds, and New York City pops up as a tiny island in the southern hemisphere. In that same view London is still part of Pangea and appears almost directly adjacent to the South Pole.

"I'm amazed that geologists collected enough data to actually plot my home 750 [million] years ago, so I thought you all would enjoy it too," Webster writes in a comment on Hacker News.

He is quick to point out that the visualizations should be considered approximate despite the fact that plate tectonic models return precise results.

"Obviously we will never be able to prove correctness," Webster concludes. "In my tests I found that model results can vary significantly. I chose this particular model because it is widely cited and covers the greatest length of time."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What do you think is the biggest benefit of this map? Why?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (26)
  • WingWing-dun
    9/25/2019 - 09:56 p.m.

    I think the biggest benefit is that this map can tell you things that are happening many years ago, you can see how much and fast it change during time which is very cool.

  • Angela-dun1
    9/25/2019 - 09:56 p.m.

    I think this map is very useful and it is very interesting. We could see what's the world looks like before and know more about it. Also I'm interested in "unrecognizable blobs of land".

  • Sharon-dun
    9/25/2019 - 10:02 p.m.

    I think the people who study geography, geographer is the biggest benefit of this map because if they want to study what the place looks like or the history of that place, they just need to plug in the address of that place in the map and they can see how that place has changed over 750 million years, so it really convenient for them.

  • Jayee-dun
    9/26/2019 - 01:08 a.m.

    I think the biggest benefit of this map is that we can see the changes of Earth's tectonic plates over time. This lets us, students see and get an idea of how things looked like back then and we can relate it to other things that would help us better understand our earth and history. We can also predict where the tectonic plates are going to move overtime with it and this can save many lives as when tectonic plates clash, they tend to form mountain ranges and other maybe dangerous things.

  • Oat-dun
    9/29/2019 - 12:14 a.m.

    I think the benefit of this map is that it lets us see how the Earth had changes in a million years. It can also help us to understand how the land and continents change in a million years better.

  • Enqi-dun
    9/29/2019 - 06:24 a.m.

    This article provides pictures and related description to analyze the author's thoughts.

  • Louis-dun
    9/29/2019 - 07:53 a.m.

    The biggest benefit of this map is to help us understand world change in one million years because we don't know what happen in one million years.

  • Zenas-dun
    9/29/2019 - 10:23 p.m.

    The biggest benefit of this map is that one can see the history of a place.

  • Scott-dun
    9/29/2019 - 10:25 p.m.

    i think the biggest benefit of this map is knowing what happened many years ago

  • Rex-dun
    9/29/2019 - 10:27 p.m.

    I think the biggest benefit of this map is it shows the progress that people have made between the year to make this map, It talk about the history of the earth and how they made it to how it is now.

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