Old Earth Ministries Online Earth History Curriculum
Presented by Old Earth Ministries (We Believe in an Old Earth...and God!)
This curriculum is presented free of charge for use by homeschooling families and schools.
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Chapter 3 - The Cambrian Period
Lesson 15: The Supercontinent Gondwana
Gondwana, originally Gondwanaland, is the name given to a southern precursor supercontinent. Its final geological suturing occurred between ca. 570 and 510 million years ago (Ma), joining East Gondwana to West Gondwana. It later separated from Laurasia 180- during the breakup of the Pangaea supercontinent that existed about 500 to 200 Ma into two large segments, nearly equal in area. While the corresponding northern-hemisphere continent Laurasia moved further north, Gondwana drifted south. It included most of the landmasses in today's southern hemisphere, including Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, Australia-New Guinea, and New Zealand, as well as Arabia and the Indian subcontinent, which have now moved entirely into the Northern Hemisphere.
Chapter 3: The Cambrian Period
Reconstruction showing final stages of assembly of Gondwana, 550 Ma ago
The continent of Gondwana was named by Austrian scientist, Eduard Suess, after the Gondwana region of central northern India (from Sanskrit gondavana "forest of Gond"), from which the Gondwana sedimentary sequences (Permian-Triassic) are also described.
The adjective "Gondwanan" is in common use in biogeography when referring to patterns of distribution of living organisms, typically when the organisms are restricted to two or more of the now-discontinuous regions that were once part of Gondwana, including the Antarctic flora. For example, the Proteaceae, a family of plants that is known only from southern South America, South Africa, and Australia are considered to have a "Gondwanan distribution". This pattern is often considered to indicate an archaic, or relict, lineage.
The assembly of Gondwana was a protracted process. Several orogenies led to its final amalgamation 550–500 million years ago at the end of the Ediacaran, and into the Cambrian. These include the Brasiliano Orogeny, the East African Orogeny, the Malagasy Orogeny, and the Kuunga Orogeny. The final stages of Gondwana assembly overlapped with the opening of the Iapetus Ocean between Laurentia and western Gondwana. During this interval the Cambrian Explosion occurred.
Gondwana was formed by these earlier continents and microcontinents, and others, colliding in these orogenies:
One of the major sites of Gondwana amalgamation was the East African Orogen, where these two major orogenies are superimposed on each other:
At the same time, in the Kuunga Orogeny Neoproterozoic India collided with the Australia/Mawson continent.
Other large continental masses, including the cores of North America (Canadian Shield or Laurentia), Europe (Baltica), and Siberia were added over time to form the supercontinent Pangaea by Permian time. When Pangaea broke up (mostly during the Jurassic), two large masses, Gondwana and Laurasia, were formed.
When Pangaea broke up, the re-formed Gondwana continent was not precisely the same as before Pangaea formed; for example, most of Florida and southern Georgia and Alabama are underlain by rocks that were originally part of Gondwana but that were left attached to North America when Pangaea broke apart.
During the late Paleozoic, Gondwana extended from a point at or near the south pole to near the equator. Across much of Gondwana, the climate was mild. During the Mesozoic, the world was on average considerably warmer than today. Gondwana was then host to a huge variety of flora and fauna for many millions of years. But there is strong evidence of glaciation during Carboniferous to Permian time, especially in South Africa.
Gondwana began to break up in the mid-Jurassic (about 167 million years ago), when East Gondwana, comprising Antarctica, Madagascar, India and Australia, began to separate from Africa. South America began to drift slowly westward from Africa as the South Atlantic Ocean opened, beginning about 130 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous, and resulting in open marine conditions by 110 million years ago. East Gondwana then began to separate about 120 million years ago when India began to move northward.
The Madagascar block, and a narrow remnant microcontinent presently occupied by the Seychelles Islands, were broken off India; elements of this breakup nearly coincide with the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event. The India–Madagascar–Seychelles separations appear to coincide with the eruption of the Deccan basalts, whose eruption site may survive as the Réunion hotspot.
Australia began to separate from Antarctica perhaps 80 million years ago (during the Late Cretaceous), but sea-floor spreading between them became most active about 40 million years ago during the Eocene epoch of the Tertiary Period.
New Zealand probably separated from Antarctica between 130 and 85 million years ago.
As the age of mammals got underway, the continent of Australia-New Guinea began gradually to separate and move north (55 million years ago), rotating about its axis to begin with, and thus retaining some connection with the remainder of Gondwana for about 10 million years.
About 45 million years ago, the Indian Plate collided with Asia, buckling the crust and forming the Himalayas. At about the same time, the southernmost part of Australia (modern Tasmania) finally separated from Antarctica, letting ocean currents flow between the two continents for the first time. Cooler and drier climates developed on both continents because ocean currents enveloping Antarctica were no longer directed into the subtropics, where they would have flowed around northern Australia.
The separation of South America from West Antarctica some time during the Oligocene, perhaps 30 million years ago also caused climate changes. Immediately before this, South America and East Antarctica were not connected directly, but the many microplates of the Antarctic Peninsula remained near southern South America acting as "stepping stones" allowing continued biological interchange and stopped oceanic current circulation. But when Drake Passage opened, there was now no barrier to force the cold waters of the Southern Ocean north, to be exchanged with warmer tropical water. Instead, a cold circumpolar current developed and Antarctica became what it is today: a frigid continent that locks up much of the world's fresh water as ice. Sea temperatures dropped by almost 10°C, and the global climate became much colder.
By about 15 million years ago, the collision between New Guinea (on the leading edge of the Australian Plate) and the southwestern part of the Pacific Plate pushed up the New Guinea highlands, causing a rain shadow effect which drastically changed weather patterns in Australia, drying it out.
Later, South America was connected to North America via the Isthmus of Panama, cutting off a circulation of warm water and thereby creating the Arctic, as well as allowing a faunal interchange between the two continents.
The Red Sea and East African Rift are modern examples of the continuing dismemberment of Gondwana.