A paleontologist has created an interactive map that allows people to see how far their hometowns have moved due to continental drift. The map allows people to see how the Earth’s geological formations have changed over time, dating back 750 million years. One particularly interesting feature is the ability to superimpose today’s political boundaries onto land from millions of years ago. For example, 240 million years ago, the National Mall was part of a much larger supercontinent called Pangea.
The man behind this technique for visualization, Ian Webster, is the curator of the world’s largest digital dinosaur database. As Mother Nature Network‘s Michael D’estries reports, Webster utilized data from the PALEOMAP Project to build his map. The project was spearheaded by paleogeographer Christopher Scotese. It tracks the ever evolving distribution of land and sea over a period of 1,100 million years.
Users can input a specific address or region, such as state or country. Then they must choose a date between zero to 750 million years ago. Currently, the map has 26 timeline options. These timelines go back from present to the Cryogenian Period over intervals of 15 to 150 million years.
The interactive map is user friendly
George Dvorsky of Gizmodo reports that the new interactive map Ancient Earth is chock-full of features to help users find their way around. These include toggle display options for globe rotation, lighting, and cloud coverage. Short descriptions of selected time periods appear in the bottom left corner of the screen. Meanwhile, a dropdown menu at the top right allows users to jump directly to specific milestones in history. These milestones include the arrival of Earth’s first multicellular organisms some 600 million years ago all the way through to early hominids’ relatively belated emergence around 20 million years ago.
You can either select a different time period from the drop-down menu or use your keyboard’s left and right arrow keys. Michele Debczak, writing for Mental Floss, suggests starting at the very beginning of the map’s timeline. This is so you can see how Earth has changed from “unrecognizable blobs of land” to the massive supercontinent of Pangea. Finally, you can see it form into today’s seven continents.
Jesus Diaz of Fast Company shares several eye-opening tidbits from the Ancient Earth map. For instance, 750 million years ago, Midtown Manhattan was located in the middle of a vast expanse of ice. The description on the side says that during the Cryogenian Period (AKA greatest ice age), glaciers might’ve covered our entire planet. 500 million years ago, NYC is depicted as a small island near Antarctica while London appears almost next to the South Pole—though they were both still part of Pangea at this point.