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In an age of Mapquest.com and global positioning systems, maps have gone totally 21st century. And prehistoric maps are riding that wave. The University's Paleographic Atlas Project harnesses some of this new technology to simulate geographical and climactic changes as well as model fossil and mineral distribution. The project's Web site contains dozens of maps, slide shows, and QuickTime movies.

IMAGE:  Virtual Chicago

 

Founded in 1975 with seed money from Shell Development Corporation, the project originally studied the Paleozoic era (more than 500 million years ago) and the arrangement of continents in the pre-Pangaean world. Since then, the project has added other paleographic eras. Rather than limit the project to the study of plate tectonics, project scientists-many in the geophysical-sciences department-have also added other topics, including sea-floor spreading, paleomagnetism (or the leftover magnetism of prehistoric rocks), topography, climate, oceanography, and phyto- geography (the study of plants and their distribution on the planet).

Much of this information is displayed using maps. The collection for the Permian period (almost 300 million years ago), for example, includes a topographical map showing the beginnings of mountain ranges, such as the Appalachians, and remnants of ranges from earlier eras. Another map shows the Permian distribution of minerals, including coals and oil source rocks, and one shows climate across the continents.

The Web site also offers illustrations of Permian-era flora, including Lepidodendron, a treelike plant, and a marattialean tree fern. A Jurassic-era slide show features photographs of fossilized ferns and conifers. Visit the site for a glimpse of what was in your backyard over 500 million years ago.
-Q.J.

World Wide Web location:
http://pgap.uchicago.edu/





 


  JUNE 2002

  > > Volume 94, Number 5


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