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Map Shows How a Location Has Changed over the Past 750M Years (smithsonianmag.com)
142 points by laurex 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

Hi all, I built this using an existing model called PALEOMAP [1]. Geologists use desktop software called GPlates that defines a "rotation file" format describing the movement of tectonic plates. I wrote code that uses this file to reverse the rotation of latlng coordinates at arbitrary moments in time.

You used to be able to enter an exact address on this site, but the server would overload under heavy traffic as the rotation calculations are CPU intensive (geocoding is also expensive). I solved this problem by precomputing a grid of transformations across 26 out of the 91 available moments in time and reducing the geocoding resolution to about 200,000 cities.

[1] https://www.earthbyte.org/paleomap-paleoatlas-for-gplates/

Fyi: Could not resolve location for "Banjar Bangli, Bali, ID", "We haven't tracked its tectonic plate that far into the past - try a later year!", even for "first hominids".

EDIT: Oh, I see. It does exist for 0 Ma. Perhaps add a 0 Ma "present" item to the "Jump to" pulldown? <strike>Perhaps prune cities for which only 0 Ma data exists?</strike> Random thoughts. Thanks for your thing.

That's because Bali formed just a few million years ago, very recently in geological terms!

Ah, it's apparently Eurasian plate Cenozoic ocean floor uplifted by Indo-Australian plate subduction, with volcanism. Neat. Could one of those plates be used going backward?

That's a really cool map. I'd love to be able to click a button and have it show the locations of (say) major world cities, so that I can see surprising adjacencies. So if I look up the location of my hometown 300 million years ago, I can see if there's any places it is far away from today that it was actually much closer to then. It'd help contextualise the location you've entered.

Perhaps a game? Perhaps of minimizing inter-city walking/swimming/flying physical travel, for time travelers whose position when time traveling is anchored to the plate? So "Start at city A. ... Now, fly to Mumbai, and ride it time-forward across the Tethys Sea to Asia. Then fly to D, time-backwards to Gondwana, and fly to E (goal). Distance flown: N km. Distance drifted: N km. Time traveled: N Ma."

Note that the existing app can simultaneously show more than one city. I missed that at first.

It's nice!

I was struck by how rolling back 150 million years ago, South America and Africa were part of the same land mass (that is, the Atlantic Ocean had disappeared) but the British Isles was still separate from Europe.

meta: first time I've seen an article on HN with a link back to the same HN comment section.

edit - correction - to an earlier thread


One of the interesting things I kind of knew and this map confirmed: If you put in Austin, TX and look at the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, you'll see Austin was oceanfront property for tens of millions of years. I-35 was built right on this beachfront area and acts as the dividing line between ancient oceanbed and ancient land. The result of this is that building an in-ground pool is much cheaper if you live east of 35 than if you live west of 35.

The Balcones Escarpment [1]. I used to tell people that I lived on the first hill in the Texas hill country.

[1] https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/texas-primer-the-ba...


"How the Cretaceous coastline of North America affects US presidential elections


Along that ancient coastline of a shallow sea, plankton with carbonate skeletons lived and died in massive numbers, accumulating into large chalk formations on the bottom of the sea. When the sea level dropped and the sea drained through the porous chalk, rich bands of soil were left right along the former coastline. When that area was settled and farmed in the 19th century, that rich soil was perfect for growing cotton. And cotton production was particularly profitable, so slaves were heavily used in those areas."

I was just looking at the same thing. Also another bit of info...if you live east of 35, you only need 10 acres for an agriculture exception. West, you need 15 acres. Those pesky rocks.

I belive the constant change that occurred in N. America with a shallow sea coming and going is often credited for N. America's wide variety of dinosaurs finds.

pretty much why a big industry in middle Georgia is sand, the railroads built to support that industry serve pecan farmers now; there is still sand being sold.

So two notes. 1) It would be nice to track glaciers, they used to be truly massive during past history and it would be interesting to see them recede and more land being above water level

2) Going the other way would be interest too, what would the earth look like in 100,000 or million years?

Regarding 2, I think the landmass location would be predictable, but the sea levels wouldn't.

Link to the actual interactive map: http://dinosaurpictures.org/ancient-earth#0

This is the real link. Do not bother with the junk website posted above.

As one can imagine, oil and gas companies find this type of technology useful as it can highlight unprospected areas that were once nearby what are now well known oil fields. As might be expected, commercial versions offer far more detail and control than the website referenced. I worked with this a few years back (no connection, just thought it might be of interest): https://www.paleogis.com/products/paleoglobe/

If you track Cancun from 200 million years ago, it shows the Gulf of Mexico opening up as the Yucatan block rotates clockwise. The Florida platform stays pretty much stationary. This likely accounts for why there are no oil wells on the Florida platform south of the panhandle.

It's also potentially interesting for archaeologists searching for remains of ancient civilizations.

How could that be the case? The map for 66M years ago (predating the human fossil record) looks functionally identical.


What? The Atlantic Ocean is tiny, the Pacific Ocean is huge. The Arabian peninsula hasn't broken away from Africa, North and South America aren't even connected, India is a huge island in the middle of the ocean.

I see Britain also historically couldn't make it's mind up about being attached to Europe:

200 million years ago - joined

170 separated

66 England seems to have left Scotland and NI and sunk

20 rejoined

0 separated

I believe it was connected as little is 7.5k years ago? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doggerland

I believe so. The dates above were just the ones from the map.

Deep time is one of humanity's big discoveries: there's a LOT of history, and the vast majority of it was nothing like today. All your shorelines, mountains, political boundaries, and holy lands are just coincidences of this moment in time; none are ancient and none will last.

"On us who saw these phenomena for the first time, the impression made will not easily be forgotten... The mind seemed to grow giddy looking so far into the abyss of time..."

John Playfair on the work of his friend the geologist James Hutton who first realised the incredible age of geological features.


Of course, Playfair lived in Edinburgh - "this dream in masonry and living rock".

It would be cool if they showed estimates for the next 750 million years

It will take a few million years to make them but time lapse videos of these changes will be super cool.

Seems 20 million years ago there was a lot more land on most continents except for South America... but Africa, Europe and Asia (look at Indonesia) had much more lands d North America had no Hudson Bay!

This map will become very useful when Time Travel tourism takes place!

When calculating your target coordinates for your time travels don't forget to account for the motion of the Sun around the center of the Milky Way.

This will have killed many time travellers in the future's past.

This was one of those things that always ruined time travel movies for me. If I went back in time a few hours, would I be floating in the upper atmosphere? Go back few years, am I just floating in space? Does this mean that I can only really travel back to the previous galactic rotation and hope to Sagan that the galaxy both doesn't drift and the both the Sun and our arm of the galaxy are both in the same place?

Of course the Milky Way is also moving. In quite interesting ways: https://sci.esa.int/web/gaia/-/61117-future-motions-of-the-m...

Motion is relative. Without the blueprints for the time travel device we have no way of knowing what state of motion will count as "rest" for the device.

> Motion is relative.

Circular motion is not, it is absolute. (Although the center of the circle may also be moving at the same time, and that motion would be relative.)

> Circular motion is not, it is absolute.

What is absolute is not circular motion, but proper acceleration and vorticity of a particular congruence of worldlines. But you can describe those phenomena perfectly well in a reference frame in which, for example, a person riding along on a rotating platform is at rest. The reference frame will not be inertial, but that does not mean it is any less valid. For that matter, we routinely describe phenomena on Earth using a reference frame in which the entire Earth is at rest, not just its center; that is perfectly valid as well.

> but proper acceleration and vorticity of a particular congruence of worldlines.

This is a side note, but you really think that's a good way to describe something? You sound like you found some buzzwords and wanted to make a sentence out of them.

> But you can describe .... will not be inertial, but that does not mean it is any less valid. ... that is perfectly valid

Sure it's valid, but that was never the question in the first place.

It still has an absolute component. And in the context of this discussion (time travel) that absolute component means you will have to take the motion into account, as opposed to relative motion.

> you really think that's a good way to describe something? You sound like you found some buzzwords and wanted to make a sentence out of them.

No, I just used standard terminology in physics.

> It still has an absolute component.

Yes, but "motion" is not part of what is absolute.

> in the context of this discussion (time travel) that absolute component means you will have to take the motion into account, as opposed to relative motion.

No, it doesn't, because there is no such thing as "motion" apart from relative motion. So the time travel device can't be using "motion" to determine what it does. It could use the other things I described, but not "motion".

I would assume the Milky Way is moving too.

Suddenly, global warming feels very minor.

Which is unfortunate, because the opposite is true: over the last few hundred million years, the Earth's climate has never changed more rapidly than it is right now, with the exception of the K-T asteroid impact.

Nova Scotia is amazingly stable back to 200 million years ago.

WTF? In the map of current day they don't even include the great lakes. That was a major thing that happened recently with the carving out of the great lakes from the glaciers pulling back. The fact they don't even include them in the modern era shows how flawed this is.

Unfortunately that's how the data is provided [1]. Maybe because the Great Lakes were carved by geologically recent glaciation, and the model is built off tectonic plate movement.

A writeup of the methodology is available if you're interested. [2]

[1] https://www.earthbyte.org/paleomap-paleoatlas-for-gplates/

[2] https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-q0WIa7ofISFHyBe4UxvN8DIPs8...

The formation of the great lakes was an eye-blink ago on the scale of this map. They are only about four times as old as the great pyramid (woah)

The maps are hand-painted representations of the various ages. On the earlier maps, there was a lot of care, but also unavoidably a lot of handwaving. For the 0 Ma map, I don't know if Scotese had a particular time in mind? It looks like modern coastlines, which means an interglacial period. A 100 ky average would be more glacial - the Boston coast would stick out more. I suspect he simply used the current coast. The absence of the Great Lakes, suggests it's not the current interglacial. A duration-weighted average of say the last 1 My of 10-ish interglacials might fade the Lakes to invisibility. So perhaps it's an eye blink of averaged interglacials, or a recent but previous interglacial, or a map rule like "don't include transient features", or a consistency of approach (eg, disregarding flavors of data unavailable for earlier maps, except for the coastline), or ... ?

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