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SYFY WIRE geology

Earth’s Next Super Continent, Pangaea Ultima, Likely to Drive Mammals to Extinction

Pretty uncool, Earth.

By Cassidy Ward

The cast of NBC’s La Brea (streaming now on Peacock) inadvertently got pulled into an ancient world totally unlike our own when they fell through a time traveling sinkhole and into the past. For everyone left back in modern day Los Angelas, a significant part of the city has become unlivable. That’s a pretty small problem in the grand scheme, though. Scientists estimate that here in the real world, roughly 92% of landmasses will become unlivable in the future, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Fortunately, not for another 250 million years.

We have a pretty good handle on how the continents have moved in the past, how they are moving right now, and how they might move in the future. Running those models forward, scientists predict that we’re about midway through a supercontinent cycle. The last supercontinent, Pangaea, broke up roughly 200 million years ago, and the next will come together a quarter of a billion years from now. When the happens, the world will change so dramatically that it might spell the end for all mammals.

When the Next Super Continent Comes Together, It’s Going to be Bad for Mammals

Over the next quarter eon, Africa and Eurasia are predicted to merge as they move toward the Americas. The Atlantic ocean will be swallowed as the continental plates come together until, eventually, the African-Eurasian continent and the Americas smash together into one large, disorganized mass located roughly around the equator. In the meantime, Australia will truly become the land down under as it shifts south and merges with Antarctica.

RELATED: Amasia Supercontinent Predicted to Form In 280 Million Years

Importantly, this is only one interpretation of tectonic data. Other models suggest the next supercontinent could form closer to one of the poles, changing the eventual outcome. Regardless of where Pangaea Ultima forms, some of the geological and environmental consequences are the same.

As the land masses come together, the planet will experience a significant uptick in volcanic activity, driving a massive release of carbon dioxide and pushing the average global temperature skyward. Moreover, having one supercontinent means that most of the landmass is landlocked far from any major bodies of water, resulting in huge swaths of arid desert.

Surface temperature map of Earth with potential future supercontinent

It’s estimated that large portions of Pangaea Ultima will experience temperatures in excess of 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and be unlivable to all but the most specialized mammals. In the worst models, temperatures get so high that only 8% of the land mass is livable to mammals, down from 66% today.

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That would obviously be bad for our side of the family tree, but it wouldn’t be great for most life. Almost every type of plant and animal would be pushed to polar or coastal regions in order to beat the heat or forced to adapt to the increasingly harsh conditions of Pangaea Ultima’s interior.

Of course, the planet has undergone periods like this in the past and life has made it through alive, if not unscathed. It's likely that life will survive the next supercontinent as well. It just won’t have a particularly good time of it.

In contrast, a time portal sinkhole doesn’t sound so bad. Catch La Brea streaming now on Peacock!