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Europe, America to collide, say geologists

Geologists have spotted a new subduction zone off the coast of Portugal that is slowly tugging Europe toward the New World.

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A woman prays at Lisbon's 14th-century Carmo Convent, in 2005, during a mass remembering the victims of the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of the city. The convent is one of the last remnants of one of the strongest earthquakes ever to hit western Europe.

Rodrigo Cabrita/Diario de Noticias/AP

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If Christopher Columbus had been willing to wait just a few hundred million years, he could have simply walked to the New World.

That's because geological forces are slowly tugging Europe toward the Americas, with an estimated time of arrival of about 220 million years from now. 

In a study published in the current issue of the journal Geology, a team led by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, say that they have discovered the first signs of the eventual closing of the Atlantic Ocean, in the form of an "embryonic" subduction zone off the coast of Portugal

Subduction zones form when one tectonic plate begins to slide underneath another. The geologists, who mapped the ocean floor and found a spot where it was just beginning to fracture, say that this new subduction zone could signal the beginning of a new phase in the Wilson Cycle, a series of events, named for the Canadian geophysicist John Tuzo Wilson, who found that the planet's ocean basins periodically open and close over millions of years.

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