Why Do South America and Africa Fit Together Like Puzzle Pieces?

The Two Continents Were Once Connected

by Lucy Benton, age 12

Two-hundred twenty million years ago the world looked very different. All the continents were joined together into one big land mass, called Pangea. A huge ocean, Panthalassa, surrounded Pangea.

Two-hundred million years ago, the northern edge of Australia was connected to the southern edge of Africa. Today, South America and Africa could still fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Over millions of years the continents have moved thousands of miles from their position in Pangea. This movement is called continental drift.

Even though we don't feel it, the continents are always moving, this is likely due to the pressure of the hot, molten rock moving beneath the Earth's surface. The movement of molten rock through the Earth's interior creates convection currents. These currents move the land above them at varying speeds. North America is drifting away from Europe about one inch a year.

Continental drift is a result of a larger phenomenon called “plate tectonics.” The Earth's surface is broken into about 20 tectonic plates. Tectonic plates are giant fragments of the earth's surface. The continents actually sit on top of the tectonic plates and are carried along when their plate moves.

The movement of these plates, which carry all of Earth's land masses and bodies of water, is responsible for earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, and continental drift. When one plate crashes into another it can form high mountain ranges. For example, the Himalayan Mountains were created when India collided into Asia. The Himalayas are still getting higher today because India's plate is still pushing into Asia's. To learn more about tectonic plates, you can read Trinity's article.

The natural world is always changing, thanks to tectonic plates. In the future the Pacific Ocean is expected to shrink and the Atlantic Ocean will get wider. Africa may even split along the Great Rift Valley in the east.

[Source: The Big Book Of Knowledge]

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