Alfred Wegener's Pangaea Hypothesis

What You Should Know About the Idea of a Proto-Supercontinent

In 1912 a German meteorologist named Alfred Wegener (1880-1931) hypothesized a single proto-supercontinent that divided up into the continents we now know because of continental drift and plate tectonics. This hypothesis is called Pangaea because the Greek word "pan" means "all" and Gaea or Gaia (or Ge) was the Greek name of the divine personification of the Earth. Discover the science behind how Pangaea broke apart millions of years ago.

A Single Supercontinent

Pangaea, therefore, means "all the Earth." Around the single protocontinent or Pangaea was a single ocean called Panthalassa (all the sea). More than 2,000,000 years ago, in the late Triassic Period, Pangaea broke apart. Although Pangaea is a hypothesis, the idea that all the continents once formed a single supercontinent makes sense when you look at the shapes of the continents and how well they essentially fit together.

Paleozoic and Mesozoic Era

Pangaea, also known as Pangea, existed as a supercontinent during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic time periods. The Paleozoic geologic era translates to "ancient life" and is over 250 million years old. Considered a time of evolutionary transformation, it ended with one of the biggest extinction events on Earth taking over 30 million years to recover due to it being on land. The Mesozoic era refers to the time in between the Paleozoic and Cenozoic era and extended over 150 million years ago.

The Synopsis by Alfred Wegener

In his book The Origin of Continents and Oceans, Wegener foretold plate tectonics and provided an explanation for continental drift. Despite this, the book is received as both influential and controversial even today, due to the opposition divided amongst geologists regarding his geographic theories.

 His research created a forward understanding of the technical and scientific logic before the shift was confirmed. For example, Wegener mentioned the fit of South America and Africa, ancient climate similarities, fossil evidence, comparisons of rock structures and more. An excerpt from the book below demonstrates his geological theory:

"In the whole of geophysics, there is probably hardly another law of such clarity and reliability as this—that there are two preferential levels for the world’s surface which occur in alternation side by side and are represented by the continents and the ocean floors, respectively. It is therefore very surprising that scarcely anyone has tried to explain this law." — Alfred L. Wegener, The Origins of Continents and Oceans (4th ed. 1929)

Interesting Pangaea Facts

  • In mythology, Hercules wrestled with the giant Antaeus, who gained his strength from his mother, Gaia.
  • Pangea lasted over 300 million years ago and started to break apart around 175 million years ago.
  • The contemporary theory suggests that the Earth's outer shell is broken up into several plates that move over the Earth's rocky shell. This is what we know of plate tectonics today.
  • The process of Pangaea was put together slowly over time. In fact, it took a few hundred million years before it was formed.