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An Atlas of Phanerozoic Paleogeographic Maps: The Seas Come In and the Seas Go Out

  • Scotese, Christopher R.
Published Article
Annual Reviews
Publication Date
May 30, 2021
DOI: 10.1146/annurev-earth-081320-064052
Annual Reviews


Paleogeography is the study of the changing surface of Earth through time. Driven by plate tectonics, the configuration of the continents and ocean basins has been in constant flux. Plate tectonics pushes the land surface upward or pulls it apart, causing its collapse. All the while, the unrelenting forces of climate and weather slowly reduce mountains to sand and mud and redistribute these sediments to the sea. This article reviews the changing paleogeography of the past 750 million years. It describes the broad patterns of Phanerozoic paleogeography as well as many of the specific paleogeographic events that have shaped the modern continents and ocean basins. The focus is on the changing latitudinal distribution of the continents, fluctuations in sea level, the opening and closing of oceanic seaways, mountain building, and how these paleogeographic changes have affected global climate, ocean circulation, and the evolution of life. This review presents an atlas of 114 paleogeographic maps that illustrate how Earth's surface has evolved during the past 750 million years. During that time interval, Earth has witnessed the formation and breakup of two supercontinents: Pannotia and Pangea. The continents have been transformed from low-lying flooded platforms to high-standing land areas crisscrossed by the scars of past continental collisions. Oceans have opened and closed, and then opened again in a seemingly never-ending cycle. ▪ The changing configuration of the continents and ocean basins during the past 750 million years is illustrated in 114 paleogeographic maps. ▪ These maps describe how the surface of Earth has been continually modified by mountain building and erosion. ▪ The changing paleogeography has affected global climate, ocean circulation, and the evolution of life. ▪ The data and methods used to produce the maps are described in detail.

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