A chunk of North America found sticking to Australia

South Australian cliffs

Geologists know that there have been at least a couple of "supercontinents" over the approximately 4 billion years of Earth history where giant landmasses were formed and later split up into smaller continents.

He explained that the research shows Georgetown rocks were deposited into a sea when the region was part of North America before it broke away and collided with the Mount Isa region of northern Australia. Their analysis suggests that these rocks have chemical signatures very different from rocks found in the rest of Australia, and are quite similar to rocks found in Canada.

That is because Earth's landmass is not static, and based on the movement of underlying tectonic plates, it keeps sliding (albeit very slowly, about five feet in a century) around the planet, sometimes breaking into new pieces, while at other times, the pieces join together. That came later, after Nuna, and "only" 300 million years ago.

Curtin University PhD student Adam Nordsvan from the School of Earth and Planetary Sciences said the findings were significant as they unlock important information about the 1.6 billion year old supercontinent Nuna. They also found that the collision led to the creation of a mountain range in the region at the time. As Nordsvan tells Zhou, the current paper only looks at a sample of rocks from Georgetown, but he thinks data collected later this year will likely show that the entire Queensland Peninsula was once part of North America.


New sedimentological field data was used along with new and existing geochronological data, from both Georgetown and Mount Isa regions, to arrive at this conclusion.

Current ripple laminations in fine to medium grained sandstone sedimentary rocks in Georgetown indicate ancient shallow marine environments. After drifting on the oceans for 100 million years, the island eventually crashed and attached to modern-day Australia, forming the so-called supercontinent Nuna, also called Columbia.

The research was co-authored by researchers from Curtin University, Monash University, and the Geological Survey of Queensland.

"This new finding is a key step in understanding how Earth's first supercontinent Nuna may have formed, a subject still being pursued by our multidisciplinary team here at Curtin University".

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