Earth and Its Changing Appearance

Watch Planet Earth Evolve Over Time

Earth in the past
Earth’s continents as they appeared 750 million years ago. Courtesy The Planetary Habitability Laboratory @ UPR Arecibo, NASA, Ron Blakey /Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Inc./The PaleoMap Project. Click to embiggen.

We talk a lot about climate change these days. It’s clear that human activity has played a role, but our planet also changes naturally on very long time scales. With that in mind, it’s always worth looking at how our planet looked in the past.

What Did Earth Look like Hundreds of Millions of Years Ago?

I found a great site that has videos and image collections that help you understand the large-scale surface changes Earth has experienced in its past.  The site is called the Visible Paleo Earth and you can explore it at the Planetary Habitability Lab. It’s a creation of the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. They have created a bunch of different visualizations that also link our planet and its features to other exoplanets.

For example, here’s a set of images showing what Earth looked like nearly three-quarters of a billion years ago, about the time complex life forms were starting to migrate across the planet. The continents began as large landmasses called supercontinents that eventually broke apart and reformed. You may have heard of Pangaea, which was a supercontinent in the recent geologic past. There were others before that, such as Ur, Valbaara, Rodinia, and Laurentia. In the future, the continents, which ride along on the tectonic plates, will form a new supercontinent that has been nicknamed Ultima Pangaea. The charts on the PLH’s site show the migration of continents in the past.

Also check out their YouTube channel, where you can see this video showing the major life extinctions our world experienced.

I really like this site — it looks at Earth as a planet, from the viewpoint that we look at other planets and exoplanets. Take some time to browse through — lots of cool educational info there!

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