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Journal Article

The supercontinent cycle


Mitchell,  Ross N.
External Organizations;

Zhang,  Nan
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Salminen,  Johanna
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Liu,  Yebo
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Spencer,  Christopher J.
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Steinberger,  B.
2.5 Geodynamic Modelling, 2.0 Geophysics, Departments, GFZ Publication Database, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum;

Murphy,  J. Brendan
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Li,  Zheng-Xiang
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Mitchell, R. N., Zhang, N., Salminen, J., Liu, Y., Spencer, C. J., Steinberger, B., Murphy, J. B., Li, Z.-X. (2021): The supercontinent cycle. - Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, 2, 358-374.

Cite as: https://gfzpublic.gfz-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_5006495
Supercontinents signify self-organization in plate tectonics. Over the past ~2 billion years, three major supercontinents have been identified, with increasing age: Pangaea, Rodinia and Columbia. In a prototypal form, a cyclic pattern of continental assembly and breakup likely extends back to ~3 billion years ago, albeit on the smaller scale of Archaean supercratons, which, unlike global supercontinents, were tectonically segregated. In this Review, we discuss how the emergence of supercontinents provides a minimum age for the onset of the modern global plate tectonic network, whereas Archaean supercratons might reflect an earlier geodynamic and nascent tectonic regime. The assembly and breakup of Pangaea attests that the supercontinent cycle is intimately linked with whole-mantle convection. The supercontinent cycle is, consequently, interpreted as both an effect and a cause of mantle convection, emphasizing the importance of both top-down and bottom-up geodynamics, and the coupling between them. However, the nature of this coupling and how it has evolved remains controversial, resulting in contrasting models of supercontinent formation, which can be tested by quantitative geodynamic modelling and geochemical proxies. Specifically, which oceans close to create a supercontinent, and how such predictions are linked to mantle convection, are directions for future research.