Before And After Pangaea  


 While taking one of my frequent walks through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains near my home north of Atlanta, I came across two elegant, perfectly placed boulders on the trail. One was perched on top of the other with the authority of a Serra sculpture, or a finely crafted architectural monument. At that point I asked myself, "I wonder how long these two megaliths have been in this position, touching, and how did they get here."  After doing some research on this Kennesaw Mountain and similar local natural monuments of granite, most of what I found consisted of detailed information about Civil War battles that had been fought there. But, after more digging into the question, "what created the Appalachian Mountains?" - I found a wealth of scientific literature on the topic. The answer is related to the movement of continents over hundreds of millions of years. This series was made to be a metaphor and homage to that unobservable process. It is also reflective of the poetic device of synecdoche, the idea of using a part to represent the whole. In this way, in my mind, these pictures are also connected to the structure of Japanese Zen gardens that so powerfully evoke this idea of nature being something that can not be possessed but only contemplated, so close but so far away.  
 

The Scientific Background and Geological Time:  


 When viewing the geological formations that are exposed in today’s Appalachian Mountains, we observe elongated belts of folded and thrust faulted marine and sedimentary rocks, volcanic rocks, and slivers of ancient ocean floors. They provide physical evidence that these natural monuments were molded during plate collision, the study of which is referred to as the realm of plate tectonics.  The formation of the Appalachian mountain range occurred in the geologic eras that geologists and biologists have named Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, which lasted from roughly 480 million to 250 million years ago.

 To make a very long story very brief, the core structure of the mountain range was created during these eras when two giant landmasses - Laurentia (North America) slammed into the African plates and then the Eurasian plates. This gradual sliding of one continental plate over another, combined with gigantic fissures, and the spewing of molten metals from the deep in the Earths mantel, gradually formed a massive mountain range that extended from present day Alabama in the US to Morocco in North Africa and as far north as Greenland and Scandinavia. By the time the additional landmasses of present day South America, Australia, Antarctica, and India were all conjoined, these Appalachian mountains reached to heights taller than the Himalayas are today.

When all of the world’s continents were finally formed into one giant landmass for the last time in the earth’s history (so far), the continent of Pangaea (Greek for all earth) was formed.  By studying the fossil and geologic record globally, scientists find the same species of plant and oceanic life in all parts of the globe with the same ages. The entire world was composed of one landmass, Pangaea, and one ocean surrounding it called Panthalassa (Greek for all sea).

In subsequent eras lasting millions of years each, the Appalachian Mountains underwent many major changes that shaped its surface, which included the birth and extinction of the dinosaurs, cataclysmic volcanic and meteoric bombardment, and at least two major ice ages. All of these conditions contributed to the gradual smoothing and polishing of the geologic surface of these mountains and their subsequent appearance today.  However if you look very closely and use a little imagination, one can sense the extraordinary power of these earth changes occurring within the vastness of time. These mountains still contain poetic evidence of the mysterious forces of plate tectonics, magnetic molten magma forces operating under the Earth’s surface, and for at least once in this planets 4.54 billion year old history, everything on this planet was connected in one place, at one time. The early Appalachians reached across much of this single landmass. 

But the story is not over. All the continents are continually on the move, at a rate of about 1”-2” per year, about the speed of your fingernails growing. They are headed back toward each other again.  Many geologists predict now that another 240 million years from now all the continents could reform, producing another "super-continent", but like the first, humans won't be around to experience it. 

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