Continental drift creates the biggest jig-saw puzzle

Continental drift

from the website ZEALANDIA


Sometimes your ignorance of the world becomes apparent with a fact so startling and thrilling you wonder how you lived past 50 without ever knowing it.

And then you think about it, and you realise that, had it been taught in school, it would have been just another dull fact, without the power to turn your world on its head. But 50 years later, when you come on it quite by accident it can, literally, take your breath away.

Australia is full of marvels. But nothing prepared me for the day, driving from beautiful Margaret River, on the West Coast, to Albany, down south, when I found myself looking at this sign.

Continental drift

Welcome to the Edge of Antarctica? Sorry – I’m standing in blistering heat, on the edge of Australia, if you don’t mind. Where does Antarctica come into this?

If you already know this, you really should stop reading. Otherwise you’re going to judge me a gibbering idiot to be so excited about something you learned at school and I didn’t.

And it’s entirely possible I didn’t learn it at school. Being Roman Catholic, continental drift is the sort of thing that brings the Creationist story into disrepute. Because for one billion years, Australia and Antarctica were part of one giant continent, Gondwana.

Then 85 million years ago, they began to drift apart. It’s a mark of the continuing learning process that the sign above (photographed 12 years ago) has that period at 45 million years. But more up to date information on the internet has it at 85 million.

It is said that at first, the continental drift of Australia away from Antarctica could be measure in millimetres a year. But it has sped up and is now roughly seven centimetres annually. But – and this is the bit I love – satellite imagery has shown us images that allow us to map the break-up points so accurately that you can actually see how they would fit back together again!

The same cannot be said for the north-western coast of Australia, which is now heading towards Indonesia, with which it has had no previous connection. There will be no neat fit. Australia will eventually pulverise thousands of square kilometres of Indonesia’s southern area, before the entirety continues on its merry way towards, Malaysia and Vietnam.

It is said that continental drift will eventually bring everything back together, eventually to form a new super-continent around the North Pole.

But we probably have time for a few more episodes of Eastenders and CSI before that happens.