Researchers say in 220 Million Years, Atlantic Ocean Will Disappear

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Researchers have discovered a crack in the Atlantic Ocean, causing many to believe that it will eventually pull North America and Europe closer together in about 220 million years.

A new map of the seafloor created by the University of Lisbon shows that the crack is forming off the coast of Iberia, a region of Europe which includes Portugal and Spain. The crack is showing the beginnings of a new subduction zone.

National Geographic reported on the subduction zones, showing what could happen when tectonic plates crash into each other.

When subduction zones form, the heavier plate slides below the lighter one.

Once it is under the lighter plate, it melts into the Earth's mantle.

This new zone could be the beginning of an extended cycle which fuses continents together into a large landmass, or "supercontinent."

This isn't the first time supercontinents have formed, as it has happened at least three times during Earth's life. Each time, the supercontinents form and then break apart.

Joao Duarte, the study's first author, said the continents of the planet could "look very much like the Pangea." Pangea is a supercontinent that existed 200 million years ago.

"In this case, the Eurasia plate is breaking in two," Duarte said.

Scientists have launched research cruises for the past 20 years to map the seafloor of the region, searching for proof that a new subduction zone existed.

"It is not a fully developed subduction, but an embryonic one," Duarte said.

"Eventually, North America and Iberia will be together again, and the collision will give origin to new mountain chains like the Himalaya."

Scientists continue to study the subduction zone, and Duarte's team is developing computer and physical models of the process to determine possible outcomes of the plate movements.

Sources: Daily Mail, National Geographic