Have you ever wondered what Earth looked like millions of years ago, when and how it changed over the ages? If so, you can now browse a recently released interactive map, and even superimpose the political boundaries of today onto the geographic formations of yesteryear, dating back to 750 million years ago.
For example, about 240 million years ago, the piece of land now called the National Mall in Washington D.C., was part of the supercontinent known as Pangea. During the Early Triassic Epoch, the National Mall, was wedged almost directly adjacent to Mauritania, yet to be separated from the Northwest African country by the vast waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ian Webster, curator of the world’s largest digital dinosaur database masterminded the millennia spanning visualization tool, Ancient Earth. Webster drew on data from the PALEOMAP Project, spearheaded by paleogeographer Christopher Scotese, the initiative tracks the evolving “distribution of land and sea” over the past 1,100 million year to build the map.
Using a specific address, as mentioned earlier, or even a city, state or country and choosing a date from zero to 750 million years ago the user has a choice of 26 timeline options to. From the present to the Cryogenian Period at intervals of 15 to 150 million years.
Ancient Earth includes a range of navigational features, according to Gizmodo’s George Dvorsky. These include globe rotation toggle display options, light and cloud coverage. Short descriptions of the time period chosen pop ups and a drop-down menu where users can choose specific milestones in history, from Earth’s first multicellular organisms 600 million years ago, to hominids emerging in Africa around 20 million years ago.
It’s quite amazing to see Earth evolve from blobs of land, to supercontinent Pangea and eventually to the continents we have today. Webster points out even though the plate tectonic models return precise results, the visualizations should be seen as approximations.
In a comment on Hacker News, Webster wrote: “I’m amazed that geologists collected enough data to actually plot my home 750 years ago, so I thought you all would enjoy it too.”
“Obviously we will never be able to prove correctness,” he concludes. “In my tests I found that model results can vary significantly. I chose this particular model because it is widely cited and covers the greatest length of time.”