Scientists are among the millions of die-hard Game of Thrones fans digesting the show’s finale. Even in this fantasy world, geological processes like tectonic plate movement, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions would have built the mountains, carved the rivers and created vast oceans.
The striking landscape of Game of Thrones has led some researchers to build climate simulations that explain the erratic seasons depicted in the show, and others to piece together the geological history.
Inspired by this work, we have built the first plate tectonic reconstruction of the Game of Thrones continents. Tectonic plates are moving slabs that make up the outer layer of our planet, and behave like conveyor belts in the way they carry and drag continents around on the surface.
Even in this fantasy Game of Thrones world, geological processes like tectonic plate movement, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions would have been responsible for building the mountains, carving the rivers and creating vast oceans.
Plate tectonic reconstructions of Westeros and Essos over 600 million years in GPlates (www.gplates.org). Note the brown regions, mountains, that appear when continents collide. And just like on Earth, the forested regions in Game of Thrones are no older than about 400 million years, when the first plants began colonising the continents.
Why solve tectonic ‘jigsaw puzzles’?
Firstly, because even scientists are allowed a bit of fun now and then. But we also hope this map will help people better understand the science of plate tectonics, which is key to us knowing our past, present and even future world.
Plate tectonics can help us contextualise climate change and, like in the Game of Thrones world, geological events can influence political and social history.
For millions of Game Of Thrones fans across the globe, the time has come, the sun has set, your watch is finally ended. So what in the Seven Hells do we do now?Read more
The animation first shows our model for Westeros and Essos, but also how we use the same technology to build a detailed representation of Earth’s tectonic evolution. The same technology is also used by hobbyist “planet builders” who create evolving maps that might be used in computer games, movies and TV shows, or other creative pursuits.
Setting the scene
There is no doubt high-budget visual effects, a gripping storyline and power-plays between characters are key ingredients to the success of Game of Thrones. But so too are the captivating geological settings of the Seven Kingdoms.
The Seven Kingdoms pic.twitter.com/N55oQBysyo
— Purrbot (@PurrbotKitty) August 1, 2017
The breathtaking cinematography across sweeping grasslands of the Dothraki steppe to the snow-capped volcanic peaks north of the Wall; each location depicting contrasting topography that has shaped vastly different societies.
The geology also informs the storyline. For example, the all-important Dragonglass (volcanic obsidian rock) and Valyrian steel is extracted from the volcanic cliffs around Dragonstone castle.
— Popular Science (@PopSci) April 15, 2019
How we made our map
In our day-to-day work we use the shapes of continents and the geology they carry to reconstruct how real tectonic plate “puzzle pieces” moved around on Earth over time.
In this project, we worked with “evidence” collected by us and others from the Game of Thrones fictional world. This included evidence of past volcanism and mountain building, which are often the smoking gun for tectonic plate convergence and collision.