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16.7: Paleozoic Plate Tectonics

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  • Could these mountains have existed in the Paleozoic?

    Sure! There have been lots of huge mountain ranges in Earth history. When continents collide, big mountains grow. The formation of Pangaea created long large mountain ranges. The mountains that formed then probably looked a lot like the Himalayas do today.

    The Paleozoic Era

    The Paleozoic is the earliest era of the Phanerozoic. The Paleozoic was also the longest era of the Phanerozoic. But the Paleozoic was relatively recent. It began only 570 million years ago. At the start of the Paleozoic, there was a supercontinent called Rodinia. The supercontinent broke apart during the early part of the Paleozoic.

    The Phanerozoic is recent history compared with the Precambrian. This is one reason that the Paleozoic is much better known than the Precambrian. Another reason is that Paleozoic organisms had hard parts, and they fossilized better.

    Formation of Pangaea

    A mountain-building event is called an orogeny. Orogenies take place over tens or hundreds of millions of years. Continents smash into each other. Microcontinents and island arcs smash into continents. All of these events cause mountains to rise.

    When Pangaea came together, there were orogenies all along the collision zones. Geologists find much evidence of these orogenies. For example, Laurentia collided with the Taconic Island Arc during the Taconic Orogeny (Figure below). The remnants of this mountain range make up the Taconic Mountains in New York.

    The Taconic Orogeny is an example of a collision between a continent and a volcanic island arc

    The Taconic Orogeny is an example of a collision between a continent and a volcanic island arc.

    Laurentia experienced other orogenies as it collided with the northern continents. The southern continents came together to form Gondwana. When Laurentia and Gondwana collided to create Pangaea, the Appalachians rose. Geologists think the Appalachians were once higher than the Himalayas are now.

    Pangaea

    Pangaea was the most recent supercontinent on Earth. Evidence for the existence of Pangaea was what Alfred Wegener used to create his continental drift hypothesis. Continental drift is described in the chapter Plate Tectonics.

    As the continents move, the shape of the oceans changes too. At the time of Pangaea, most of Earth’s water was collected in a huge ocean. This ocean was called Panthalassa (Figure below).

    The breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea

    Pangaea was the sole landform 250 million years ago. The rest of the planet was a huge ocean called Panthalassa, along with a few smaller seas.

    Summary

    • The Paleozoic began with the supercontinent Rodinia. The era ended with the supercontinent Pangaea.
    • As continents come together, orogenies build up mountain ranges.
    • Pangaea was a giant landmass made of all of the continents around 250 million years ago.

    Review

    1. How do plate tectonics processes result in orogenies?
    2. How did Pangaea come together?
    3. How is the creation of Pangaea related to events like the Taconic orogeny?
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