As recent volcanic events in both Hawaii and Guatemala have reminded us, our planet is alive and ever-changing. But while little shifts during the course of our short lives, the differences over hundreds of millions of years are nothing short of dramatic.
A new interactive map created by Ian Webster, curator of the internet's largest dinosaur database, places our planet's ever-shifting surface into stark relief. Using plate tectonics and paleogeographic maps by C.R. Scotese of the PALEOMAP Project, Webster's map can show you how the earth under your current address changed over the course of some 750 million years. It's humbling to know 400 million years ago, the woods outside my home in Ithaca, New York, was actually a shallow ocean.
My hometown of Ithaca, New York, as visualized 400 million years ago. (Photo: Ian Webster)
350 million years earlier, when glaciers covered much of the planet during the Cryogenian Period, Ithaca was part of a supercontinent named Rodinia. It's believed that single-celled organisms like green algae first appeared during this time.
Ithaca, New York, on the supercontinent Rodinia some 750 million years ago. (Photo: Ian Webster)>
For every dropdown selection of time, a backwards leap of between 10 million and 40 million years, Webster provides some background info. For instance, 105 million years ago, when a vast inland sea cut across North America from the Gulf, the map states: "Cretaceous Period. Ceratopsian and pachycephalosaurid dinosaurs evolve. Modern mammal, bird, and insect groups emerge." You can also choose points in time based on events such as "first coral reefs," "first flowers" or even "first grass."
North America as it likely appeared some 105 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. (Image: Ian Webster)
While the maps are informative, Webster cautions that they're only approximate.
"Even though plate tectonic models return precise results, you should consider the plots approximate (obviously we will never be able to prove correctness)," he wrote on HackerNews. "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."
Jump here to plug in your address and see how your present world gets turned upside-down when churned through the gears of time.