Florida Plays ‘Continental Musical Chairs’

Florida is a virtual youngster when compared to the whole Earth, which is generally considered to be at least 4.5 billion years old. The Florida plateau, upon which Florida is perched, was formed about 530 million years ago, according to a University of Florida-Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF-IFAS) website, Florida’s Geological History.

Florida did not start out as a balmy tourist-attracting peninsula jutting hundreds of miles into warm saltwater from the southeastern corner of the United States. Only a painfully slow game of what might be called continental musical chairs left Florida on the North American Continent; it easily could have wound up as part of Africa or South America.

In its youth, Florida was likely part of what many scientists believe was once the supercontinent Pangaea. It is believed that Pangaea connected all of the Earth’s landmasses into one gigantic chunk surrounded by ocean. Florida was sandwiched between what were to become North and South America and Africa, according to the UF-IFAS website.

The website describes how Florida wound up where it is: “Movement of the tectonic plates that compose the Earth’s crust eventually caused Pangaea to split into Laurasia (North America, Europe and portions of Asia) and Gondwana (South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica). When North America split from Laurasia and drifted northwesterly, it dragged the Florida plateau with it.”

A Florida Department of Environmental Protection website offers a slightly different look at Florida’s migration. That website reports that a study of ancient rocks “indicate that Florida was once a part of northwest Africa.” During the continental split described earlier, “a fragment of Africa remained attached to North America,” the website states. That fragment formed the base for Florida and the Bahamas islands.

Regardless how it wound up where it is, millions of residents and tourists can be thankful for the multi-million-year game of continental musical chairs that made Florida a subtropical paradise.