If we go back in time to around 200 Million Years Ago (Ma)—the late Triassic Period—the Earth would have been comprised of one giant continent, or super-continent, and one giant ocean, or super-ocean. The super-continent was known as Pangea and the super-ocean Panthalassa. These two features existed for millions of years. However prior to their existence, they were probably split into a number of continents and oceans (most likely in a different configuration than today.
About 180 Ma, during the Jurassic Period, Pangea started to break up. Initially two new super-continents were formed. Laurasia was comprised of what we know today as the northern hemisphere continents (Europe, Asia and North America), whereas Gondwana was comprised of the continents of Australia, Antarctica, South America and Africa as well as India. Since that time the continents have continually moved to reach the locations that they are found in today. Use the interactive animation below to see how the plates have moved around.
Figure 2: An interactive display showing the movement of the continents over geological time. To start the animation, click and hold below the 210 million years ago label (210ma), then drag the bar along the timeline. Adapted from Williams et al. (1998, p. 13).
Throughout this period, due to the reconfiguration of the continents and oceans, global atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns have changed. This in turn has led to significant climate change. Not only has the re-arrangement of the oceans and continents caused climate change but, as noted elsewhere in this module, there is evidence to support climate change from a range of other causes. The following four sub-sections look at how the reconfiguration of the oceans and continents has initiated climate change.