Pangaea Breakup

Steven Whitmeyer, Mladen Dordevic, Tyler Hansen, and Bill Swanger

This activity is part of the GEODE Project

Initial Publication Date: June 26, 2019 | Reviewed: December 10, 2020


A Google Earth animation files was developed to show the Pangaea breakup. The animation is utilized to illustrate the evidence for plate tectonics and plate motion. Three student exercises are build around this resource: the first exercise allows students to explore the evidence for plate tectonics within Google Earth. The same file is then used in a Hot Spot and Plate Movement exercise that was developed as two versions, one for introductory students and a second for upper level geology majors.

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There are 3 resources in this collection. Two are for use with introductory students and one is for more advanced students:
  • Plate Tectonics Exercise - Physical Geology Class (introductory)
  • Hot Spot Volcanoes - Physical Geology Class (introductory) and up
  • Hot Spot Volcanoes (advanced) - Upper level geology majors (e.g., Structural Geology course)

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The introductory plate tectonic and hot spot volcano exercises have no pre-requite knowledge. The advanced version of the hot spot volcanoes activity assumed some familiarity with Excel.

How the activity is situated in the course

These can be used as an introduction to plate tectonics and hot spots, or as an application of knowledge following a lecture on plate tectonics and hot spots.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • plate tectonic processes
  • rates and direction of plate motion
  • contrast of tectonic volcanism and hot spot volcanism

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

geospatial reasoning

Other skills goals for this activity

Using Google Earth

Description and Teaching Materials

All exercises require the Pangaea Breakup KML file below; open it in Google Earth. The other files are the student exercises:

Teaching Notes and Tips

Each exercise uses the same Pangaea Breakup KML file. See the Plate Tectonics Exercise for instructions about downloading and loading the Pangaea Breakup KML. The Plate Tectonics Exercise also includes additional instructor notes about using the Pangaea Breakup KML and Google Earth.

References and Resources

This is part of the GEODE Project funded by NSF DUE 1323419 and Google gifts to ODU and JMU. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or Google Inc.

Website for original activity and overarching project can be found here: