1 Billion Years of Tectonic Plate Movement in 40 Seconds
1 Billion Years of Tectonic Plate Movement in 40 Seconds
According to plate tectonic theory, the Earth’s surface is made up of slabs of rock that are slowly shifting right under our feet.
Because of this constant movement, today’s Earth looks a lot different from what it did millions of years ago. Today’s animation looks at the Earth’s tectonic plate movement from 1 ga (geological time for 1 billion years ago) to the present-day, via EarthByte on YouTube.
Editor’s note: The video starts at time 1,000 ma (1,000 million years ago), and ticks down at the rate of about 25 million years every second.
The Emergence of Plate Tectonic Theory
Plate tectonics is a relatively new theory—in fact, according to National Geographic, it hadn’t become popular until the 1960s. However, the concept of continental movement was brewing long before it became widely accepted.
In 1912, German scientist Alfred Wegener proposed a theory he called continental drift. According to Wegener’s theory, Earth’s continents once formed a single, giant landmass, which he called Pangaea.
Over millions of years, Pangaea slowly broke apart, eventually forming the continents as they are today. Wegener believed this continental drift explained why the borders of South America and Africa looked like matching puzzle pieces. He also pointed to similar rock formations and fossils on these two continents as proof to back his theory.
Initially, the scientific community wasn’t on board with the theory of continental drift. But as more data emerged over the years, including research on seafloor spreading, the theory started to gain traction.
The Supercontinent Cycle
Nowadays, it’s believed that Pangea was just one of several supercontinents to mass together (and break apart) over the course of geological history.
The exact number of supercontinents is largely debated, but according to the Encylopedia of Geology, here are five (including Pangea) that are widely recognized:
- Kenorland: 2.7-2.5 billion years ago
- Nuna/Columbia: 1.6-1.4 billion years ago
- Rodinia: 950–800 million years ago
- Pannotia: 620-580 million years ago
- Pangea: 325-175 million years ago
According to the theory, this cycle of breaking apart and coming together happens because of subduction, which occurs when tectonic plates converge with one another.
The supercontinent cycle also ties into ocean formation. The below example of the Wilson Cycle specifically keys in on how the Atlantic Ocean, and its predecessor, the Iapetus Ocean, were formed as supercontinents drifted apart:
Source: Hannes Grobe
The Importance of Plate Tectonics
Plate tectonics has been a game-changer for geologists. The theory has helped to explain tons of unanswered geological questions, assisting scientists in understanding how volcanoes, mountains, and ocean ridges are formed.
It’s also valuable for the oil and gas industry since it explains how sedimentary basins were created, allowing geologists and engineers to target and locate vast oil reserves.
Since the theory of plate tectonics is relatively new, there’s still a lot to be discovered in this field of research. However, in March 2021, a report was published in Earth-Science Reviews that, for the first time, visualized a continuous plate model that shows how Earth’s plates have shifted over the last billion years.
The video above visualizes this particular report and accurately depicts the Earth’s tectonic plates’ movement or the observed shift in Earth’s tectonic plates over the years.
Mapped: The World’s Legal Government Systems
The political regimes of the world’s countries have changed over centuries. This map charts the nine government systems that rule the world today.
Mapping The World’s Legal Government Systems
With over 200 countries existing across the world with unique cultures and traditions, one might assume that there are hundreds of types of government systems. But both historically and in modern times, that’s not the case.
Even while political regimes across these countries have changed over time, they’ve largely followed a few different types of governance. Today, every country can ultimately be classified into just nine broad forms of government systems.
This map by Truman Du uses information from Wikipedia to map the government systems that rule the world today.
Countries By Type of Government
It’s important to note that this map charts government systems according to each country’s legal framework.
Many countries have constitutions stating their de jure or legally recognized system of government, but their de facto or realized form of governance may be quite different.
Here is a list of the stated government system of UN member states and observers as of January 2023:
|Country||Constitutional form||Head of state|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Bahamas, The||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Republic||Ceremonial|
|Central African Republic||Republic||Executive|
|China, People's Republic of||Republic||Ceremonial|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Republic||Executive|
|Congo, Republic of the||Republic||Executive|
|New Zealand||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Papua New Guinea||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Saint Lucia||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Republic||Executive|
|Saudi Arabia||Absolute monarchy||Executive|
|Solomon Islands||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Republic||Ceremonial|
|United Arab Emirates||Constitutional monarchy||Executive|
|United Kingdom||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Vatican City||Absolute monarchy||Executive|
Let’s take a closer look at some of these systems.
Brought back into the spotlight after the death of Queen Elizabeth II of England in September 2022, this form of government has a single ruler. They carry titles from king and queen to sultan or emperor, and their government systems can be further divided into three modern types: constitutional, semi-constitutional, and absolute.
A constitutional monarchy sees the monarch act as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, giving them little to no real power. For example, King Charles III is the head of 15 Commonwealth nations including Canada and Australia. However, each has their own head of government.
On the other hand, a semi-constitutional monarchy lets the monarch or ruling royal family retain substantial political powers, as is the case in Jordan and Morocco. However, their monarchs still rule the country according to a democratic constitution and in concert with other institutions.
Finally, an absolute monarchy is most like the monarchies of old, where the ruler has full power over governance, with modern examples including Saudi Arabia and Vatican City.
Unlike monarchies, the people hold the power in a republic government system, directly electing representatives to form government. Again, there are multiple types of modern republic governments: presidential, semi-presidential, and parliamentary.
The presidential republic could be considered a direct progression from monarchies. This system has a strong and independent chief executive with extensive powers when it comes to domestic affairs and foreign policy. An example of this is the United States, where the President is both the head of state and the head of government.
In a semi-presidential republic, the president is the head of state and has some executive powers that are independent of the legislature. However, the prime minister (or chancellor or equivalent title) is the head of government, responsible to the legislature along with the cabinet. Russia is a classic example of this type of government.
The last type of republic system is parliamentary. In this system, the president is a figurehead, while the head of government holds real power and is validated by and accountable to the parliament. This type of system can be seen in Germany, Italy, and India and is akin to constitutional monarchies.
It’s also important to point out that some parliamentary republic systems operate slightly differently. For example in South Africa, the president is both the head of state and government, but is elected directly by the legislature. This leaves them (and their ministries) potentially subject to parliamentary confidence.
Many of the systems above involve multiple political parties vying to rule and govern their respective countries.
In a one-party state, also called a single-party state or single-party system, only one political party has the right to form government. All other political parties are either outlawed or only allowed limited participation in elections.
In this system, a country’s head of state and head of government can be executive or ceremonial but political power is constitutionally linked to a single political movement. China is the most well-known example of this government system, with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China ruling as the de facto leader since 1989.
The final form of government is a provisional government formed as an interim or transitional government.
In this system, an emergency governmental body is created to manage political transitions after the collapse of a government, or when a new state is formed. Often these evolve into fully constitutionalized systems, but sometimes they hold power for longer than expected.
Some examples of countries that are considered provisional include Libya, Burkina Faso, and Chad.
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