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Abstract

Disagreement about the existence of the late Neoproterozoic supercontinent Pannotia highlights the limitation of defining supercontinents simply on the basis of size, which, for pre-Pangaean supercontinents, is difficult to determine. In the context of the supercontinent cycle, however, supercontinent assembly and break-up, respectively, mark the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next and can be recognized by the tectonic, climatic and biogeochemical trends that accompany them. Hence supercontinents need only be large enough to influence mantle circulation in such a way as to enable the cycle to repeat. Their recognition need not rely solely on continental reconstructions, but can also exploit a variety of secular trends that accompany their amalgamation and break-up. Although the palaeogeographical and age constraints for the existence of Pannotia remain equivocal, the proxy signals of supercontinent assembly and break-up in the late Neoproterozoic are unmistakable. These signals cannot be readily attributed to either the break-up of Rodinia or the assembly of Gondwana without ignoring either the assembly phase of Pan-African orogenesis and the changes in mantle circulation that accompany this phase, or the reality that Gondwana cannot be a supercontinent in the context of the supercontinent cycle because its break-up coincides with that of Pangaea.

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