Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. The Rift Velocity Database is a free web app that shows the plate tectonic history of our planet from the fragmentation of Pangea to the present day, with rift velocities being depicted as colored circles.

It uses Cesium’s animation features to show the history of plate motions. You can also plot and download the rift velocity history of any point by clicking on a circle.

Reconstructed plate motions can be used to understand the geodynamic processes that shape the surface of our planet. By analyzing these plate motions, the authors deduced that rupturing continents can control abrupt changes in plate motions. Read the full story in their Nature article: Brune, S., Williams, S.E., Butterworth, N.P., and Müller, R.D., 2016, Abrupt plate accelerations shape rifted continental margins: Nature, v. 536, no. 7615, p. 201–204, doi: 10.1038/nature18319.

This web interface was produced by a collaboration between Sascha Brune of the GFZ Potsdam in Germany and Simon Williams, Dietmar Müller, and Michael Chin of the University of Sydney, Australia. Find out more about their geodynamic research by following these links: