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Laurasia Supercontinent: Definition & History

Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Over the millions of years that the Earth has existed, super continents have formed and split apart many times due to the action of plate tectonics. In this lesson, learn all about the ancient super continent of Laurasia.

Are the Continents Moving?

Did you know that the Earth used to look much different than it does today? Over the history of the Earth, new continents have been created as old ones broke up or joined together. This has happened many times, and even now, the surface of the Earth is still in motion. This happens because of a process called plate tectonics.

Plate tectonics explains how the outer surface of the Earth, known as the crust, is separated into large areas known as plates that are always moving, growing, or shrinking. These plates move because, just under the crust of the Earth, there is a very hot region called the mantle that contains molten rock known as magma. There are currents within this liquid magma, and motion of magma within the mantle causes the crust to move too!

How Do Super Continents Form?

As plates have moved and shifted over millions of years, very large landmasses have formed several times. We call these super continents because they are very large and contain a large percentage of the world's total land mass.

About 300 million years ago, almost all of the land in the entire world came together again to form a super continent that we now know as Pangaea. As these huge plates came together, they pushed into each other, creating many geological features that we can still see today, including the Appalachian mountains that lie on the eastern side of North America.

Pangaea was the most recent super continent of this size that has existed on Earth, and you could already see the outlines of many the continents we know today within Pangaea.

300 million years ago, all of the continents that exist today were part of one large super continent called Pangaea
pangaea

How Did Laurasia Form and Break Up?

During the time when Pangaea existed, the Earth was very different from today. Almost all of the land was in the Southern hemisphere. About 150 million years ago, the Earth's crust shifted and the Northern half of Pangaea broke away from the southern half and began to move into the northern hemisphere. This large northern continent was called Laurasia.

The separation of Pangaea into Northern and Southern continents created a narrow ocean between them called the Tethys ocean. Because currents could now move freely around the warm, central region of the Earth, the climate of the Earth changed greatly and was very different from today's climate or from the climate just before the formation of Laurasia.

Over the next few million years, the plates continued to move and Laurasia separated into two halves, creating the north Atlantic ocean between them.

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