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The shifting continents of the Earth are heading for inevitable collision. Two hundred and fifty million years from now, all the landmasses on this planet will come together in a single, gigantic supercontinent which no human is ever likely to see. That future supercontinent will not be the first to form on Earth, nor will it be the last. Each cycle lasts half a billion years, making it the grandest of all the patterns in nature.
It is scarcely a century since science first understood how Pangaea, the supercontinent which gave birth to dinosaurs, split apart, but scientists can now look back three-quarters of a billion years into the Earth's almost indecipherable past to reconstruct Pangaea's predecessor, and computer-model the shape of the Earth's far-distant future.
Ted Nield's book tells the astounding story of how that science emerged (often in the face of fierce opposition), and how scientists today are using the most modern techniques to draw information out of the oldest rocks on Earth. It also reveals the remarkable human story of the Altantis-seeking visionaries and madmen, who have been imagining lost or undiscovered continents for centuries.
Ultimately all supercontinents exist only in the human imagination, but understanding the "Supercontinent Cycle" represents nothing less than finally knowing how our planet works.
Ted Nield holds a doctorate in geology and currently works for the Geology Society of London, where he is Editor of their monthly magazine Geoscientist. He is Chair of the British Association of Science Writers and Chair of the Outreach Programme of the International Year of the Earth, a UN-backed venture. He lives in London.
"As a geologist turned science journalist, editor and provocative blogger, Ted Nield has a complex view of life and science. His skills as a writer successfully convey in Supercontinent the recent exciting work in grand-scale geoscience to a wide scientific audience [...] The attempted reconstructions of past and future continents and oceans is a major field of activity in contemporary geoscience. To handle it without oversimplification or getting lost in a maze of detail is no small accomplishment."
– David Oldroyd, Nature
"A fascinating and eye-opening book [...] In a most engaging way, Nield reveals how science has unraveled the complex evolution of our planet's surface, and presents the reader with a tantalizing glimpse of the Earth of the distant future."
– BBC Focus
"A book that examines the romance of its subject alongside its hard science [...] If you don't know much about how the planet's crust works, Nield's book will teach you the basics [...] He rocks."
– Helen Brown, The Daily Telegraph
"One of the best popularizations of geology [...] Giv[es] us a sense of the ancient yet powerful forces underneath us."
– P. D. Smith, The Guardian
"Both informative and entertaining. [Nield] has thought well outside any academic box, touching on a huge diversity of topics [...] Nield relates many subjects that are currently major foci of research in Earth history to his theme."
– Kevin Burke, Science
"An accessible account of how the Earth has several times consisted of a single island landmass and will again, in about 250 million years."
– Peter Calamai, The Toronto Star
"For centuries, people have dreamed of lost continents. Today, the author of this fascinating book shows, geologists can detect evidence of a continuing cycle of formation, breakup and reformation of one giant landmass – a supercontinent – over billions of years. Nield, editor of Geoscientist magazine, imagines what these supercontinents might have looked like and tells the stories of the scientists who have discovered and studied them [...] Making highly technical material understandable, Nield explains why 'the Earth's Supercontinent Cycle matters to everyone, everywhere.'"
– Publishers Weekly
"Ted Nield tells the fascinating story of how the world has been made – and re-made – through billions of years of geological time. Geology underpins everything, yet the history of the continents on which we live has remained almost neglected. Nield has put this right with his imaginative and dynamic account of the movements of plates, and the assembly of the familiar world from an unfamiliar past."
– Richard Fortey, author of The Earth: An Intimate History
"The four dimensional complexities of our happy little planet – 'earth's immeasurable surprise' – are made elegantly accessible by Ted Nield in this truly exceptional book. At least until the next major discovery it deserves to become the standard work, ideal for students of the subject, and hugely enjoyable to those for whom the world remains an unfathomable enigma."
– Simon Winchester