Continents: A Student's Resource

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By general definition a continent is defined as a major land mass on earth. There is however, no set definition for this term. General consensus today stands at 7 landmasses being called continents. These are:

  • Asia
  • Africa
  • North America
  • South America
  • Antarctica
  • Europe
  • Australia

The North American continent: An article providing a complete geography of the North American continent.
Africa, the Continent: An article providing a complete geography of the North African continent.
The Asian Continent: A Wikipedia article about the geography of Asia.
Interesting Facts about Continents: An article discussing facts about continents and the countries of the world.
Continents & Countries - Facts & Figures: An article providing detailed facts about continents and the countries that these continents hold.
All about Continents: A detailed article on the continents of the world, including their sizes, maps, countries, etc.
World Atlas: A map depicting and discussing the continents of the world.

The History of Continents: Supercontinents

Scientists have researched for many years to try piece together how the earth took the shape it is in today. According to research, the first continent came into existent some 4 billion years ago. This happened when ‘cratons’ - the building blocks for the earth’s plate’s (the things that make up the earth’s crust) - began to merge.
Cratons are basically giant rock cores. As these began to come together and rise to the surface of the vast oceans, they gave rise to a large masses called supercontinents.
Scientists refer to the first such super continent as Vaalbara. Although believed to be smaller than any of today’s continents, Vaalbara is thought to be the first single piece of land mass on the earth.
Timelines of Supercontinents


Name

Formed

Broke up

Vaalbara

3.1 billion years ago

2.8 billion years ago

Kenorland

2.7 billion years ago

2.5 billion years ago

Columbia or Nuna

2.0â€"1.8 billion years ago

1.5â€"1.3 billion years ago

Rodinia

1.1 billion years ago

750 million years ago

Pangea

300 million years ago

200 million years ago

The earth’s crust is continuously moving and changing. It is an agreed upon fact that after a few hundred million years continents come together to form a super continent.
Research has suggested that the life of a supercontinent is around a hundred million years, after which it breaks up to begin a new cycle of reunification. This process of breaking up is known to geologists as ‘rifting’. In geological terms ‘rifting’ is the phenomenon in which two tectonic plates move apart on a divergent plate boundary.
Plate Tectonics: An article on the phenomenon of plate tectonics, which results in movement of continents.
History of Supercontinents: A detailed article providing complete details on supercontinents.
The Billion Years of the Past: An all-encompassing article on the world of supercontinents.
Earth’s History: a youtube video showing the changing shape of the earth’s landmasses.
Supercontinents: An article on the what, why and where of supercontinents.

History of Continents: Pangea Onwards

The last and most famous known supercontinent - Pangea - was formed by the merging of all existing continents into one whole. In fact, the correct word to use here might be ‘smashed’ into each other as this collision was so magnanimous that it created mountain ranges such as the Appalachian Mountain range in North America and the Ural Mountain range found on the boundary of Europe and Asia.
Research tells us that Pangea was shaped like a huge letter C, stretching from the North Pole to the South Pole and was spread out across the equator.
It is said to have begun reuniting around 540 million years with the final pieces joining in around 200-250 million years ago.
All about Pangea: A Wikipedia article on the last supercontinent, Pangea

Today’s Continents

As mentioned before, every few hundred million years a supercontinent breaks up again into smaller continents and the supercontinent Pangea was no exception. Pangea began breaking up around a hundred and seventy five million years ago. This break up eventually resulted in the land masses or continents that make up the Earth today.
This breakup is quite evident from the shape of the present day continents. If you look closely at the eastern side of South America and the western side of Africa you will notice that they could fit together like a jig-saw puzzle. The same phenomenon can be seen between North America and Greenland (albeit a bit harder to spot). This is because at one point North America, Greenland, South America and Africa were a part of the large supercontinent, Pangea.
The final piece of Pangea’s break-up to shape it into today’s continents was set around 35 million years ago when the Indian subcontinent smashed into Asia giving rise to the Himalayan Mountain range.
As mentioned, the number of continents today stands at seven. Out of these seven however, only two (Australia & Antarctica) can actually be classified as being completely separate land masses.
This distribution is however, not unanimous. On the European front and certain other parts of the world the count of continents goes up to only six, combining North and South America in to one continent; whereas there are other people who leave the number of continents at five, where Europe and Asia are also considered as one.
Six Continents or Seven? An about.com answer to the debate about whether there are six or seven continents.
Geologists however, talk in terms of regions instead of the much debated continents. According to most geologists the world can be divided into eight regions

  • Asia
  • Middle East and North Africa
  • Europe
  • North America
  • Central America and the Caribbean
  • South America
  • Africa
  • Australia and Oceania

World Population: A continent-wise breakup of the world’s population
Continents, Continents and more Continents: All you ever wanted to know about continents.
The Frozen Continent: A detailed article on Antarctica
The Australian continent: An article by the Government of Australia detailing various aspects of the Australian continent.
Facts about the Australian continent: An article by the Utah Education Network, providing a complete geography of the Australian continent.

The Future of the Continents: The Next Supercontinent

Although there are two theories about what shape the Earth’s landmass will take in the future, a general consensus is that in about another two hundred and fifty million years the current continents will again crash into each other forming another supercontinent.
Some say that all these continents will reunite and form a supercontinent which they have already named ‘Pangaea Ultima’. Others are of the view that 'Amasia' will be the next supercontinent which will be a unification resulting from Asia and the America’s crashing into each other.
History of the Earth: A site dedicated to the history of the earth itself, including a detailed history of continents.
History of Continents: A research paper on the history of the continents in the past 3 billion years.
Earth Timeline: A BBC article on the timeline of the earth.


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