50 Surprising Facts About Earth’s Continents and Plates

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1Australia's GPS Drift Adjustment

Australia's GPS Drift Adjustment

In 2017, Australia changed all GPS coordinates by 1.8 meters to account for continental drift since the last GPS update in 1994. The Australian plate, which moves north 7 cm per year, is one of the world's fastest-drifting plates.


2. The African continent is splitting into two along the East African Rift due to the birth of a new ocean. Over the course of 10 days, an 8-meter-wide and 60-km-long stretch of earth opened up along this rift in 2005.


3. Under southern Africa, a patch of reversed polarity at the core-mantle boundary creates the South Atlantic Anomaly, where the Earth's magnetic field is significantly weaker. This weakening, alarming geophysicists for the past 160 years suggests a potential global magnetic field reversal, which would impact navigation systems, electricity transmission, and radiation levels on Earth's surface.


4. North America, particularly the USA, experiences the world's most extreme weather, with more than 10,000 severe thunderstorm events per year and over 1,000 tornadoes.


5. The Asiatic continent has a larger surface area than the moon.


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6Europe's Submerged Land

Europe's Submerged Land

Europe lost a land area, now submerged beneath the southern North Sea, that once connected Great Britain to continental Europe. Around 6500-6200 BC, rising sea levels flooded the area.


7. Almost all of South America lies further east than the eastern tip of Florida.


8. Africa spans all four hemispheres (Northern, Southern, Western, and Eastern).


9. North America almost split apart about 1.1 billion years ago, creating the Midcontinent Rift that extended over 3,000 kilometers from Kansas to Michigan. This rift, which produced massive lava flows and copper deposits, now forms the largest non-sea rift in the world, with remnants primarily visible in the Lake Superior region.


10. About 250 million years ago, Africa collided with North America, leaving a fragment of its crust embedded in the southeastern U.S. This remnant, part of the Brunswick Magnetic Anomaly, stretches from Alabama to the North Carolina coast and marks the ancient rift where the continents separated.


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11North America's Prehistoric Sea

North America's Prehistoric Sea

During the late Cretaceous Period, a large body of water called the "Western Interior Seaway" stretched through much of North America.


12. Africa is larger than the U.S., China, India, and Western Europe combined, but the standard Mercator map distorts land masses at higher latitudes, making Africa appear smaller.


13. The collision of the Indian Plate with Asia, which formed the Himalayas, altered East Africa's climate and played a crucial role in the evolution and survival of modern humans.


14. Earth has another continent called Zealandia, which sank after breaking away from Australia around 65-80 million years ago.


15. South America houses all 6,000-meter or higher volcanoes, with the majority located in Argentina and Chile.


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16North America's Tectonic Expanse

North America's Tectonic Expanse

The North American Tectonic Plate includes Greenland, parts of eastern Russia, and parts of northern Japan due to its large size.


17. Without ice, Antarctica would be a giant peninsula and archipelago of mountainous islands known as Lesser Antarctica or West Antarctica, as well as a single large landmass about the size of Australia known as Greater Antarctica or East Antarctica.


18. As of 2015, South America has 97% of the world's uncontacted tribes, while Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, and Central America together have less than 3%.


19. Europe and Asia aren't actually continents but two parts of one large continent called Eurasia, with the division being a historical social construct from the Ancient Greeks.


20. Australia is the world's lowest and flattest continent, with an average elevation of only 1,000 feet because it is near the center of a tectonic plate.


21Antarctica's Naming History

Antarctica's Naming History

The continent of Antarctica was originally going to be called Australia, until the colonial authorities in Sydney took the name for their continent. This left the continent of Antarctica without an official name for over 80 years until the 1890s, when it was referred to as the Antarctic Continent.


22. Antarctica has no time zones. So, people can set their clocks to any of the 24 standard time zones, and it will be considered correct anywhere on the continent.


23. Australia is the smallest continent on Earth, while Oceania is a region made up of thousands of islands in the South Pacific and is not a continent.


24. Antarctica is the largest desert in the world. Scientifically, a desert is defined as a barren area with little precipitation and hostile living conditions for plant and animal life.


25. Africa and Asia together are home to nearly 90 percent of the world's rural population.

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