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At a subduction zone, the ocean floor dives under the edge of a continent and down into the interior of the Earth."The subduction zone turns out to be the most important part of the system if you want to understand what causes the plates to move," Scotese said."All we can do is make predictions of how plate motions will continue, what new things might happen, and where it will all end up." Among those predictions: Africa is likely to continue its northern migration, pinching the Mediterranean closed and driving up a Himalayan-scale mountain range in southern Europe. "Italy, Greece and almost everything in the Mediterranean is part of (the African plate), and it has been colliding with Europe for the last 40 million years." That collision has pushed up the Alps and the Pyrenees mountains, and is responsible for earthquakes that occasionally strike Greece and Turkey, Scotese noted.
The Atlantic sea floor is split from north to south by an underwater mountain ridge where new rock material flows up from Earth's interior. Still, over millions of years that minute movement will drive the continents apart.
The two halves of the sea floor slowly spread apart as the ridge is filled with the new material, causing the Atlantic to widen. Left: NASA's LAGEOS II satellite measures tiny shifts in continental positions from Earth orbit.
(requires Real Player) October 6, 2000 -- The Earth is going to be a very different place 250 million years from now.
Africa is going to smash into Europe as Australia migrates north to merge with Asia.
[more information] That part of the prediction is fairly certain, because it is just the continuation of existing motions.
Beyond about 50 million years into the future, prediction becomes more difficult.As Yogi Berra might say, it looks like "deja vu all over again" as the present-day continents slowly converge during the next 250 million years to form another mega-continent: Pangea Ultima.Above: A map of the world as it might appear 250 million years from now. The surface of the Earth is broken into large pieces that are slowly shifting -- a gradual process called "plate tectonics." Using geological clues to puzzle out past migrations of the continents, Dr.Africa has collided with Europe, closing off the Mediterranean Sea. "The Mediterranean is the remnant of a much larger ocean that has closed over the last 100 million years, and it will continue to close," he said.The Atlantic has widened, and Australia has migrated north. "More and more of the plate is going to get crumpled and get pushed higher and higher up, like the Himalayas." Australia is also likely to merge with the Eurasian continent.Plus, get practice tests, quizzes, and personalized coaching to help you succeed.Try it risk-free The continents you know have existed for a long time, but not in their current locations.Notice the clumping of most of the world's landmass into one super-continent, "Pangea Ultima," with an inland sea -- all that's left of the once-mighty Atlantic Ocean. Christopher Scotese, a geologist at the University of Texas at Arlington, has made an educated "guesstimate" of how the continents are going to move hundreds of millions of years into the future."We don't really know the future, obviously," Scotese said. Africa has been slowly colliding with Europe for millions of years, Scotese said.At that point, most of the world's landmass would be joined into a super-continent called "Pangea Ultima." The collision might also trap an inland ocean, Scotese said. But it's a fun exercise to think about what might happen," he said."And you can only do it if you have a really clear idea of why things happen in the first place." For now it appears that in 250 million years, the Earth's continents will be merged again into one giant landmass..as they were 250 million years before now. Web Links PALEOMAP -- Web site for the project that produced the predictions of the future positions of Earth's continents. Geological Survey On the Move -- Continental Drift and Plate Tectonics --Learn more about NASA's Role in Investigating Continental Drift Dr.