In about 100 to 200 million years’ time Australia’s Cape York Peninsular is going to be a ripping ski destination.
Australia is currently tracking northward at a pace of seven centimetres a year, at that rate if you live to 100 years old, the continent would’ve moved seven metres in your lifetime.
“You’d see it in our lifetime if you could measure it, that’s seven metres if you live to one hundred years,” Geoscience Australia’s Mineral Systems Group Leader Richard Blewett told Business Insider.
“The skiing is going to go really bad and then it’ll come good again on the northern margin,” he said.
“Cape York in 200 million years will probably be pretty cool.
“It’s going to be sitting off China and they get some pretty good snow and when we smash into them we’re going to get a mountain range.”
But to see Australia’s movement you need to look at big time scales – in the tens of millions of years – some say it’s drifting to form part of a possible new supercontinent which some are calling “Amasia” – a combination of America and Asia. Others are calling the projection Pangea Ultima.
“We’ll hit Indonesia, scrape bits of Timor off, and we’re going to sweep those islands ahead of us, Papua New Guinea will latch onto us and we’ll take those islands ahead of us, shove them north into The Philippines and into China,” Blewett projected.
“Australia will be there sitting off South China.”
When this happens mountains will form.
“Think of the Himalayas, you have got a big continental mass like India, it was actually off WA, down there next to Antarctica,” Blewett said.
He explained when India was tracking north it was at an even quicker pace, at about 14 centimetres a year.
“It was very fast and went smashing into Asia and formed the Himalayas,” he said.
The earth’s continental plates drift on approximately 800 million year cycles, crashing into each other and pulling away in different shapes.
“It’s likely that supercontinent will break up in another 300-400 million years and the whole cycle will continue again,” he said.
“These are all speculations but it’s based on our understanding of how the earth has worked in the past.”
About 50 million years ago Australia broke away from Antarctica and started drifting north west before changing direction to head north-north east and began tracking towards China.
“The whole globe goes through a reorganisation, 50 million years ago the whole western part of the hemisphere changed, the Pacific used to trend north and now trends north west,” he said.
The earth however is not getting bigger, some ocean crust is expanding and some is diving down into an ocean “graveyard” disappearing into the mantle.
“The continents just respond to this, they’re just pushed and pulled around the earth because of these big forces that are happening in the mantle,” Blewett said.
“Plates are rigid and they’re floating around on this mantle.”
Blewett said it’s really important to know about palaeography because it affects industry and resources.
“These are global processes and you can see the affects right across the globe,” he said.
“It’s really important to know this because we now want to plough our fields exactly, we use these high precision GPS, to plough them in the same spot, if you don’t account for the drift you’ll plough in a different spot, if you get my drift,” he said.
“If you’re ploughing that field for ten years it would’ve moved, you need to adjust.”
The plate tectonic cycle is also really important for the formation of resources.
“Basins form when you start breaking up continents, our big gas and oil fields sit down in the Gippsland Basin, the Otway Basin and Bass Strait, that’s all part of Australia’s break off from Gondwana and head northwards,” he said.
Australia’s shortage of oil resources and abundance of gas can be attributed to the plate movements. Back in the Cretaceous period, in the dinosaur times, Australia was attached to Antarctica, it was very cool and there was a lot of plant matter.
“There was a lot of peat, when you take peat and cook it up you tend to get more gas, you don’t get the oil and this is why Australia is so dependant on overseas oil, unless we can find more,” Blewett said.
“In terms of minerals, when you start smashing continents together you can also create gold deposits.
“The gold deposits of Bendigo and Ballarat sit there on all these beautiful folded structures.
“That was part of an old mountain building process about 400 million years ago. The gold fields of eastern Australia are part of a mountain building event and ocean closing event back about 400 million years ago.”
This video shows models some of the earth’s continental drift, early on it’s a struggle to recognise the shapes we know today.
“It’s only in the last 100 million years or so that you start to see shapes you recognise,” Blewett said.
“These things reform quite dramatically, Australia could go up, join with China and when it breaks up could split down the middle and a piece of North America could go off somewhere else.”
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