UF study: Barren Siberia, of all places, may be original home to animal life

based on the magnetic properties of rocks, the other based on the evolution of trilobites.

When rocks are formed, their magnetic minerals align to the earth's magnetic field, providing Meert the clues he needed to plot the original locations of his specimens on a globe. Carbon dating of radioactive minerals in the rocks also revealed when they were formed. By combining the formation dates with the location data, Meert deduced the whereabouts of the continents over the ages. Lieberman's research, by contrast, focused on using fossil records to study the evolutionary patterns of early life in insects and crustaceans, especially trilobites the heavily armored, once-common arthropods that left millions of fossils around the globe before their extinction 250 million years ago. These patterns then pointed toward a likely continental breakup and drift scenario.

Working independently, the UF and KU geologists each determined that the southern supercontinent began breaking up around 580 million years ago. The separate continents drifted northward toward the equator at about six inches per year, with this relatively rapid movement ending about 500 million years ago, they found.

Meert's conclusions were based on research on dozens of rocks from locations ranging from Norway to Kenya to Madagascar. Lieberman drew his findings from comparisons of the physical characteristics, such as the number of body segments, of thousands of fossilized trilobites from different continents listed in a KU computer database. By grouping those with similar characters together, he determined where different groups originated and how closely related they were.

While six inches is fast by comparison to today's continental movement of speed of one to two inches per year, it is far slower than that proposed by another prominent theory on early continental movement. That theory, known to scientists as "inertial interchange true polar wander," held the continents rotated fro

Contact: Joe Meert
University of Florida

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