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A long time from now, Ireland and the UK will be just beneath the Tropic of Cancer, hugging the coastline of Africa. Japan will be on the Equator and the Arctic Ocean will be the largest ocean in the world. A large shard of Africa (the area east of the Rift Valley) will have split off and hit western India, and a two-thousand mile gulf will separate North America from South America. Only two major continents will exist: North America / Greenland and a supercontinent comprising Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Antarctica and Australasia.

This is what the world will look like in 120 million years time, according to the German Research Centre for Geosciences

Continents have always been on the move. During the Carboniferous Period (around 300 million years ago), most of Europe and eastern North America was lush tropical rainforest, as evidenced by the very extensive deposits of coal (dead trees) in this region today. Over a long period of time, the continents have steadily moved across the globe like big pieces in a toddler’s jigsaw. Continents can be thought of as large rafts plying the oceans, occasionally bumping into each other, flooding, and splitting up due to internal processes in the Earth’s interior. 

For some snapshots of Earth when it was a young ‘un, check out this site.

Field Museum of Chicago

My friends and I went on a trip to the Field Museum in Chicago this weekend. It’s one of America’s greatest natural history and cultural museums, and like many similar places of learning around the world, you would need a week to see all the exhibits.

The museum bears a resemblance to the Natural History Museum in London. Instead of a diplodocus, “Sue” the Tyrannosaurus Rex is there to greet you, alongside two massive elephants under the watchful eye of a pair of great totem poles. We spent an hour with the birds and animals of the World, listening to the sounds made by these creatures – the song of the Loon was extraordinary: how ancient explorers to the continent must have been petrified when they heard this bird for the first time.

We then took a trip through the geological section. PC showed us a geode that her dad donated to the museum and we also saw a fine collection of meteorites. The museum has a very fine “history of life” exhibit where the public is invited to walk through a number of galleries ranging from Pre-Cambrian times right up to the post-Ice Age (Holocene) epoch, interrupted now and again by a Great Extinction. The Cambrian Period room is particularly good. They have a huge video display showing us what the animals of this time might have looked like and how they might have behaved, and in glass cases are the Burgess Shale fossils of bizarre creatures such as Wiwaxia, Hallucigenia and the Pikaia. I could have stayed hours in that room alone, but even greater delights were on display in other rooms – a full size Apatosaurus skeleton, the small “Tully Monster” fossil: an unknown creature from the Carboniferous Period, as well as impressive mammoth and megatherium skeletons. One of my favourites were the intact fossils from the Santana formation in Brazil – flash-fossilised fish that still show their scales and soft body parts. The last exhibit on the way out of this section is a display that tells you how many species have been made extinct since the museum opened that day.

On Sunday, I drove up to Milwaukee, and spent around an hour there, getting utterly lost mainly. It’s a pretty city – quite old in places with some fine lake-side views. There’s a lot of road construction taking place in the city so it took me a while to find my way out. I spent the next few hours in Gurnee Mills Mall, an enormous outlet store near the Wisconsin border, buying toys for a fraction of the price you would get them in Ireland.

In O’Hare, while waiting to check in for my return flight to Dublin, an old priest started to hand out lollipops to some kids in the queue behind me. I found this very unsettling, and I think their parents did too. A random act of kindness? Maybe. However given everything that has come to light in Ireland over the last 15 years, another inference could too easily be drawn. I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting cynical..

I got about two hours sleep in the plane – the usual – but I have a good book recommendation from a fellow passenger – The Kite Runner. He compares it to To Kill a Mockingbird, so I must read it as soon as I have finished “The Heart of Darkness” – another enthralling book.

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