An internationally recognized scientist shows that Earth's separate continents, once together in Pangea, are again on a collision course.
You've heard of Pangea, the single landmass that broke apart some 175 million years ago to give us our current continents, but what about its predecessors, Rodinia or Columbia? These "supercontinents" from Earth's past provide evidence that land repeatedly joins and separates. While scientists debate what that next supercontinent will look like – and what to name it – they all agree: one is coming.
In this engaging work, geophysicist Ross Mitchell invites readers to remote (and sometimes treacherous) lands for evidence of past supercontinents, delves into the phenomena that will birth the next, and presents the case for the future supercontinent of Amasia, defined by the merging of North America and Asia. Introducing readers to plate tectonic theory through fieldwork adventures and accessible scientific descriptions, Mitchell considers flows deep in the Earth's mantle to explain Amasia's future formation and shows how this developing theory can illuminate other planetary mysteries. He then poses the inevitable question: how can humanity survive the intervening 200 million years necessary to see Amasia?
An expert on the supercontinent cycle, Mitchell offers readers a front-row seat to a slow-motion mystery and an ongoing scientific debate.
4. The Unknown Archean
5. The Next Supercontinent
Epilogue: Surviving Amasia
Ross Mitchell is a professor at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. His supercontinent research has been covered by outlets including the New York Times, Scientific American, NPR Science Friday, and Science.
"Ross Mitchell provides a cinematic view of Earth over billion-year timescales, showing how the slow-motion dance of the continents has a deep underlying logic that makes it possible to predict geographies of the distant future."
– Marcia Bjornerud, author of Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, Lawrence University
"Geological puzzles don't get bigger than unravelling the choreography of continents since Earth's childhood. It takes bold thinking, and reconciliation of hard-won field data with computer models of our planet's interior, to figure out the lay of the land hundreds of millions of years ago. Ross Mitchell draws on his own cutting-edge research to explain how Earth's heat engine works, and what ancient configurations of land and sea – vastly different from today's map – meant for the atmosphere, climate and, crucially, the evolution of life. It's a gripping story, vivaciously told, of prescient scientists, perilous fieldwork, and the amazing ways in which geology empowers us to situate humanity in the context of billions of years of Earth history, and to ground speculation of how the next billion might play out."
– Clive Oppenheimer, author of Eruptions that Shook the World, University of Cambridge
"Mitchell is the only person who could write this inviting and engaging book, which shares the thrill of scientific discovery."
– Brendan Murphy, St. Francis Xavier University
"The world is like a giant clock, with enormous tectonic gears of seemingly infinite complexity. That clock will keep ticking long after we humans are extinct, and Ross Mitchell, watchmaker, lets us see far into that future: an amazing Amasia."
– Peter Ward, author of Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, University of Washington
"A clear, accessible introduction to a 'super' significant topic – the supercontinent cycle – and to scientific study itself."
– Richard E. Ernst, Carleton University
"An engaging insider's story of geological discovery and insight at a grand scale – the unification and fragmentation of supercontinents over geologic time, and why such behavior is repeating, yet changing. This first-hand account reads like The Double Helix, but with mountains for molecules."
– Paul Hoffman, Harvard University