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Tectonic revolution: Is the Earth forming another supercontinent?

Media release

Could planet Earth be on its way to forming another supercontinent? Curtin University researcher Professor Zheng-Xiang Li will work with leading academics across the globe to prove what he calls the ‘new tectonic revolution’.

Twenty years ago Professor Li, now at Curtin’s Department of Applied Geology, was involved in uncovering the evolutionary history of the precursor to the well-known Pangea supercontinent – Rodinia. He and others hypothesise that in a couple of hundred million years the Earth could have another supercontinent.

Professor Li said his major International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) project “Supercontinent Cycles and Global Geodynamics”, which investigates the hypothesis the Earth’s tectonic plates and its deep mantle evolve in supercycles, has been approved by IGCP’s scientific board for a five-year term. The project is sponsored by UNESCO and IUGS (the International Union for Geological Sciences),

“The project will assemble a multidisciplinary team of hundreds of scientists and research students from around the world to address perhaps the most fundamental geoscience question — how Earth works,” Professor Li said.

“The team will investigate the evolution of a series of supercontinents through Earth’s history, and the breakup of the last such supercontinent, Pangea, that led to the formation of the Atlantic, Indian and Southern oceans.

“We will also research how the Earth’s inner engine has driven the supercontinent cycles and establish new concepts, tools, maps and global databases to assist the modelling of global changes and the discovery of new Earth resources.”

Professor Li will work with project co-leaders Professor David Evans (Yale University), Professor Shijie Zhong (University of Colorado), and Professor Bruce Eglington (University of Saskatchewan) on the project.

“This is the first time such a diverse team has been brought together to work on this topic. We will utilise state-of-the-art expertise and facilities in paleomagmatism, geotectonics, computer modelling, and GIS and database management, including those at Curtin’s TIGeR institute,” Professor Li said.

The Institute for Geoscience Research (TIGeR) at Curtin studies Earth’s dynamic evolution, using geotectonic, geodetic, geochronologic and geochemical records. Its multi-scale, multi-disciplinary approach allows for synthesis of geological and geodetic information on a truly global scale.
Professor Li is one of the only three Australian highly cited geoscience researchers appearing on Thomson Reuters’ Highly Cited Researchers 2014 list.