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The Wilson Cycle, named for J. Tuzo Wilson who first described it in 1966, outlines the origin and subsequent breakup of supercontinents. This cycle has been operating for the last billion years with supercontinents Pangaea and Rodinia, and possibly billions of years before that. The driving force of this is two-fold. The more straightforward mechanism arises from the fact that continents hold the Earth’s internal heat much better than the ocean basins. When continents congregate together, they hold more heat in which more vigorous convection can occur, which can start the rifting process. Mantle plumes are inferred to be the legacy of this increased heat and may record the history of the start of rifting. The second mechanism for the Wilson Cycle involves the destruction of plates. While rifting eventually leads to drifting continents, a few unanswered questions emerge:
To be sure, these are all factors in plate movement and the Wilson Cycle. It does appear, in the current best hypothesis, that there is a more significant component of slab pull than ridge push. Plate tectonic models are beginning to detail the next supercontinent, called Pangea Proxima, that will form 250 million years.
Introduction to Physical Geography by R. Adam Dastrup is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted
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