Pangaea (sometimes spelled Pangea), the most recent of a series of supercontinents on Earth, formed about 270 million years ago and broke apart about 200 million years ago. At this time most of the dry land on Earth was joined into one huge landmass that covered nearly a third of the planet's surface. The giant ocean that surrounded the continent is known as Panthalassa.
The movement of Earth's tectonic plates formed Pangaea and ultimately broke it apart.
Pangaea existed during the Permian and Triassic geological time periods, which were times of great change. The Permian mass extinction, which wiped out an estimated 96% species about 248 million years ago, was a major event during this time.
Image: Artwork showing the Earth at the time Pangaea broke up (credit: Mikkel Juul Jensen/Bonnier Publications/SPL)
Pangaea (/pænˈdʒiːə/ pan-JEE-ə;) was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras, forming approximately 300 million years ago. It began to break apart around 200 million years ago. The single global ocean which surrounded Pangaea is accordingly named Panthalassa.
The name Pangaea is derived from Ancient Greek pan (πᾶν) meaning "entire", and Gaia (Γαῖα) meaning "Mother Earth". The name was coined during a 1927 symposium discussing Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift. In his book The Origin of Continents and Oceans (Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane), first published in 1915, he postulated that prior to breaking up and drifting to their present locations, all the continents had at one time formed a single supercontinent which he called the "Urkontinent". Originally, this theory was rejected because the predominant theory was that the Earth was cooling and shrinking, with mountains being the last regions to shrink.
Wegener's theory that mountains were made by two land masses colliding with each other seemed unlikely because it was thought that nothing could move a landmass as large as a continent. The name occurs in the 1920 and 1922 editions of Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane, but only once, when Wegener refers to the ancient supercontinent as "the Pangaea of the Carboniferous".