50 Surprising Facts About Earth’s Continents and Plates

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26 South America’s Ancient Isolation

South America's Ancient Isolation

South America was an island continent until as recently as 5 million years ago, housing many unique and now extinct animals, including saber-toothed marsupials.

27. North America contains both the largest oceanic island, Greenland, and the largest inland island, Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron.

28. Only 36 miles separate Europe from Africa.

29. North America consists of 23 countries, not just three.

30. Alaska is the easternmost point in North America. Semisopochnoi Island, by longitude, is the easternmost land location in the United States and North America. It sits 9.7 miles (15.6 km) west of the 180th meridian, which separates the eastern and western hemispheres.

31 South America’s Avian Abundance

South America's Avian Abundance

South America, known as the ‘Bird Continent,’ hosts more bird species (3,445) than any other continent, including much larger ones.

32. Antarctica is approximately 1.5 times larger than the United States.

33. Continents, on average, drift at about the same speed as fingernails grow.

34. Ancient Antarctica was much warmer and wetter than previously suspected, with a climate suitable for substantial vegetation, including stunted trees, along the edges.

35. Due to its ice cover, Antarctica has the highest average surface elevation of all the continents, at around 2,000 meters above sea level. For comparison, the highest peak in the British Isles, Ben Nevis in Scotland, is 1,343 meters.

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36 Antarctica’s Tree Absence

Antarctica's Tree Absence

Antarctica is the only continent without any trees.

37. Twelve African nations have pledged to build a 9-mile-wide band of trees spanning 4,750 miles across Africa in order to stop the Sahara’s progressive advancement.

38. Pangea, the supercontinent that broke apart 200 million years ago to create today’s continents, was at least the fifth supercontinent in Earth’s cyclical history of supercontinents forming and breaking up.

39. In 250 million years, all continents will converge and form a new supercontinent, Pangea Ultima, which may lead to a climate tipping point and make Earth uninhabitable for mammals.

40. Scientists believe that as many as six supercontinents formed and broke up before Pangea, with roughly 400 million years passing between each cycle.

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41 Greenland vs. Australia

Greenland vs. Australia

Greenland is considered the largest island and Australia a continent because Greenland is part of the North American plate, while Australia has its own separate tectonic plate, despite both fitting the definition of an island and being entirely surrounded by water.

42. The Pacific Ocean is currently shrinking, while the Atlantic Ocean is expanding due to tectonic plate shifting. It will continue to shrink until a new supercontinent forms.

43. The thickness of tectonic plates remains uncertain due to factors such as crust composition, heat, low-velocity zones under ocean basins, and partially melting rock, which confuse those studying seismic activity.

44. Japan sits on four tectonic plates, contributing to its frequent earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as the presence of 110 active volcanoes.

45. The same asteroid that broke apart before impacting Earth 214 million years ago is believed to have formed impact craters in North Dakota, Canada, France, and Ukraine. Plate tectonics have since shifted their positions, no longer aligning them in a straight line.

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46 Iceland’s Tectonic Diving

Iceland's Tectonic Diving

Iceland’s Silfra Crack in the Atlantic Ocean allows divers and snorkelers to float between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, enabling them to touch both continents at the same time.

47. Mount Everest continues to grow due to the ongoing collision between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, which formed the mountain 50 to 60 million years ago by pushing up rocks. This force is still at work today.

48. The Mariana Trench has been proposed as a nuclear waste disposal site, with the hope that tectonic plate subduction occurring there might eventually bury the waste deep into the Earth’s mantle.

49. There is no evidence supporting the existence of lost continents such as Mu, Lemuria, or Atlantis, as the theory of plate tectonics has entirely rejected the idea of lost continents.

50. The shallow movement of the Pacific tectonic plate under the North American plate caused the Rockies’ uplift, facilitating uranium mining and nuclear energy resource development in Colorado, among other things.

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