Project 628 - The Gondwana Map Project

Gondwana was the first recognised supercontinent and as such has played a pivotal role in our understanding of supercontinent cycles. It was one of the largest and long lasting supercontinents on Earth´s history, comprising five large continents (Africa, Australia, Antarctica, South America and India) and many other smaller masses scattered today around the globe (e.g. Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Falklands, and others now embedded in Asia, Europe and USA). Amalgamation of Gondwana complete at ca. 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period, when marine life was flourishing evolving fast to visible organisms. For more than 350 million years, this supercontinent as an entity moved between the South Pole and the low latitudes of the southern hemisphere. Large intracontinental basins developed and registered the evolution of life on Earth as plants and vertebrates migrated from water to terrestrial environments, culminating with the biggest reptiles in the Mesozoic Era. The continental margins of Gondwana were very heterogeneous. From the present day location of the Andes to the Papua New Guinea, active tectonics predominated, with subduction zones, collisions and accretion of new terranes along the Gondwanides. The northern margin of Gondwana - facing the Tethys Ocean - was entirely different, with stable, wide continental shelves and shallow seas from Northern Africa to Papua New Guinea. This extensional tectonic setting allowed small continental blocks to separate from Gondwana, drifting away to be deformed and welded onto Laurasia. Finally for about 100 million years, starting ca. 200 million years ago (Jurassic period), Gondwana started to break up into several land fragments evolving steadily into the present-day picture of the continents and oceans on Earth.

Gondwana research involves the understanding of the evolution of our planet, its climatic, thermal and tectonic processes and the evolution of life itself. Since 1872, when the geologist Medlicott identified the Gondwana flora in India, through the definition of the Gondwana Land by Suess in 1885 and the first maps by Wegener and Du Toit in the dawn of the twentieth century, this major subject has been investigated by many scientists worldwide. A new geological map of Gondwana was published in 1988 by the AAPG, conceived by Prof. Maarten de Wit and his colleagues in South Africa. Much new data, particularly based on modern geochronology has been generated since, and our proposal “The Gondwana Map Project” aims to update the Gondwana Map of de Wit with an approach of the 21st century. Since 1988, the geological data for the regions concerned have improved incredibly in the wake of new geochronological laboratories and investigative methodologies. Thorough airborne geophysical reconnaissance has been extended across most parts of the constituent continents. A new GIS data-base is planned, with a dynamic digital process that will allow the construction not just an improved Gondwana Map but also a wide variety of maps showing the evolution of this supercontinent. Geophysical advances at continental margins and oceanic floors, the modelling of the restoration with new software and the analysis of satellite imagery permits scientifically rigorous reconstruction of Gondwana.

The main products will be:

(a) a new Gondwana Map and sets of thematic maps showing its evolution through time;

(b) a website providing to all the geological data taken into the project at the Gondwana Digital Center of Geoprocessing (GDCG);

(c) three complete book volumes about Gondwana;

(d) new detailed geology of key areas for correlation;

(e) an interactive 4-D GIS of Gondwana

(f) creation of a permanent exposition at the Gondwana Memory Center (GMC), in South America, with specimens representative of all parts of Gondwana.

This project includes vast international collaboration between scientists and students, universities, surveys and global institutions. This is the only way to integrate scientific thinking about Gondwana. In order to promote this integration it is essential to have undergraduate and graduate students from many fields, making their dissertation and thesis on subjects within the project. The main issue is to get students from developing countries to access developed countries laboratories and universities. This integration is fundamental for the achievement of this project. It is important to stress here that Gondwana was formed mostly by the territory of actual developing countries. Africa is the key continent to be mostly included scientifically during this process of the Gondwana Map.

All these digital tools, allied with the essential basic geological data will help scientists to review and improve the knowledge about this supercontinent that played a major role in the evolution of the Earth. These conclusions allow a better understanding of the global geological processes that today affect our lives. This is one alternative to harmonize a sustainable future on the planet.

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