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Gondwanaland from 650–500 Ma assembly through 320 Ma merger in Pangea to 185–100 Ma breakup: supercontinental tectonics via stratigraphy and radiometric dating

Earth-Science Reviews
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2004.05.002
  • Gondwanaland
  • Gondwana Facies
  • Pangea
  • Paleogeography
  • Tectonics
  • Coal
  • Earth Science
  • Geography


Abstract Gondwanaland lasted from the 650–500 Ma (late Neoproterozoic-Cambrian) amalgamation of African and South American terranes to Antarctica–Australia–India through 320 Ma (mid-Carboniferous) merging with Laurussia in Pangea to breakup from 185 to 100 Ma (Jurassic and Early Cretaceous). Gondwanaland straddled the equator at 540 Ma, lay wholly in the Southern Hemisphere by 350 Ma, and then rotated clockwise so that at 250 Ma Australia reached the S pole and Africa the equator. By initial breakup of Pangea at 185 Ma, Gondwanaland had moved northward such that North Africa reached 35°N. The first clear picture of Gondwanaland, in the Cambrian, shows the assembly of continents with later Laurentian, European and Asian terranes along the “northern” margin, and with a trench along the “western” and “southern” margins, reflected by a 10,000-km-long chain of 530–500 Ma granites. The interior was crossed by the Prydz–Leeuwin and Mozambique Orogenic Belts. The shoreline lapped the flanks of uplifts generated during this complex terminal Pan-Gondwanaland (650–500 Ma) deformation, which endowed Gondwanaland with a thick, buoyant crust and lithosphere and a nonmarine siliciclastic facies. During the Ordovician, terranes drifted from Africa as the first of many transfers of material to the “northern” continents. Central Australia was crossed by the sea, and the eastern margin and ocean floor were flooded by grains of quartz (and 600–500 Ma zircon) from Antarctica. Ice centres in North Africa and southern South America/Africa waxed and waned in the latest Ordovician, Early Silurian, latest Devonian, and Early Carboniferous. In the mid-Carboniferous, Laurussia and Gondwanaland merged in the composite called Pangea by definitive right-lateral contact along the Variscan suture, with collisional stress and subsequent uplift felt as far afield as Australia. Ice sheets developed on the tectonic uplands of Gondwanaland south of 30°S. In the Early Permian, the self-induced heat beneath Pangea drove the first stage of differential subsidence of the Gondwanaland platform to intercept sediment from the melting ice, then to accumulate coal measures with Glossopteris, and subsequently Early Triassic redbeds. An orogenic zone along the Panthalassan margin propagated from South America to Australia and was terminally deformed in the mid-Triassic. Coal deposition resumed during Late Triassic relaxation in the second stage of Pangean extension. In the Early Jurassic, the vast ∼200 Ma Central Atlantic magmatic province of tholeiite anticipated the 185 Ma breakup in the Central Atlantic. Another magmatic province was erupted at this time between southern Africa and southeastern Australia. The northeastern Indian Ocean opened from 156 Ma, and the western Indian Ocean from 150 Ma. By the 100 Ma mid-Cretaceous, the Gondwanaland province of Pangea had split into its five constituents, and the Earth had entered the thalassocratic state of dispersed continents. The 650–500 Ma “Pan-Gondwanaland” events (? by mafic underplating) rendered Gondwanaland permanently geocratic. Pangean (320–185 Ma) tectonics, driven by pulses of self-induced heat, promoted widespread subsidence at 300 Ma Early Permian and 230 Ma Late Triassic. Pangea initially broke up at 185 Ma and the five continental pieces of Gondwanaland had broken apart by the 100 Ma mid-Cretaceous. Another long-lasting feature of Gondwanaland was subduction beneath the “southern” margin and export of terranes from the “northern” and “northwestern” margins. Export of terranes was promoted by Gondwanaland-induced heat, and internal breakup by Pangea-induced heat.

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