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Laurentia (also known as the North American craton), like all craton land, was created as continents moved about the surface of the Earth, bumping into other continents and drifting away.

Many times in its past, Laurentia has been a separate continent as it is now in the form of North America. During other times in its past, Laurentia has been part of a supercontinent. It is named after the Laurentian Shield, which in turn is named after the St. Lawrence Rivermarker.

Laurentia owes its existence to a network of Early Proterozoic orogenic belts. Small microcontinents and oceanic islands collided with the ever-growing Laurentia, and together formed the stable Archean craton we see today.

Interior platform

In eastern and central Canada, much of the stable craton is exposed at the surface as the Canadian Shield. In the United Statesmarker the craton bedrock is covered with sedimentary rocks of the interior platform except in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The sequence of rocks varies from approximately 1,000 to in excess of 6,100 metres (3,500–20,000 ft) in thickness. The cratonic rocks are metamorphic and igneous while the overlying sedimentary rocks are composed mostly of limestones, sandstones, and shales. These sedimentary rocks were deposited from 650 to 290 million years ago.

Tectonic setting

The metamorphic and igneous rocks of the "basement complex" were created 1.5 to 1.0 billion years ago in a tectonically active setting. It was a setting of great pressure and temperature. The younger sedimentary rocks that were deposited on top of this basement complex were formed in a setting of quiet marine and river waters. During much of Mississippian time, the craton was the site of an extensive marine carbonate platform on which mainly limestones and some dolostones and evaporites were deposited. This platform extended either from the present Appalachian Mountains or Mississippi Valley to the present Great Basin. The craton was covered by shallow, warm, tropical epicontinental or epicratonic sea (meaning literally "on the craton") that had maximum depths of only about 60 metres (200 ft) at the shelf edge. Sometimes land masses or mountain chains rose up on the distant edges of the craton and then eroded down, shedding their sand across the landscape.

Geological history of Laurentian craton in chronological order

  • ~2.5 billion years ago, Arctica formed as an independent continent.
  • ~2.45 billion years ago, Arctica was part of the major supercontinent Kenorland.
  • ~2.1 billion years ago, when Kenorland shattered, the Arctican craton was part of the minor supercontinent Nena along with Baltica and Eastern Antarctica.
  • ~1.8 billion years ago, Laurentia was part of the major supercontinent Columbia.
  • ~1.5 billion years ago, Laurentia was an independent continent.
  • ~1.1 billion years ago, Laurentia was part of the major supercontinent Rodinia.
  • ~750 million years ago, Laurentia was part of the minor supercontinent Protolaurasia. Laurentia nearly rifted apart.
  • ~600 million years ago, Laurentia was part of the major supercontinent Pannotia.
  • ~Cambrian, Laurentia was an independent continent.
  • ~Ordovician, Laurentia was shrinking and Baltica got bigger.
  • ~Devonian, Laurentia collided against Baltica, forming the minor supercontinent Euramerica.
  • ~Permian, all major continents collide against each other for forming the major supercontinent Pangaea.
  • ~Jurassic, Pangaea rifted into two minor supercontinents: Laurasia and Gondwana. Laurentia was part of the minor supercontinent Laurasia.
  • ~Cretaceous, Laurentia was an independent continent called North America.
  • ~Neogene, Laurentia, in the form of North America, crashed into South America, forming the minor supercontinent America.
  • ~250 million years from now, all continents may crash together, forming the major supercontinent Pangaea Ultima. Laurentia will be part of Pangaea Ultima.


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References

  1. Geology - Definitions and images to illustrate geological terms, links to images and website articles. See: http://bio-geo-terms.blogspot.com/2007/01/laurentia.html
  2. Geology of the North American Craton during the Phanerozoic. See: http://instruct.uwo.ca/earth-sci/300b-001/nacraton.htm#Begin
  3. See article by Michael Anissimov at:http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-laurentia.htm
  4. Dalziel, I.W.D., 1992 On the organization of American Plates in the Neoproterozoic and the breakout of Laurentia: GSA_Today, 2, 11, 237-241.
  5. Fisher, J.H. et al., 1988 Michigan basin, Chapter 13: The Geology of North America, Vol D-2, Sedimentary cover - North American Craton 361-382
  6. Sloss, L.L. , 1988 Conclusions, Chapter 17: The Geology of North America, Vol D-2, Sedimentary cover - North American Craton 493-496
  7. Burgess, P.M. Gurnis, M., and Moresi, L., 1997 Formation of sequences in the cratonic interior of North America by interaction between mantle, eustatic, and stratigraphic processes: BGSA, 109, 12, 1515-1535.
  8. Arlo B. Weil, Rob Van der Voo, Conall Mac Niocaill, Joseph G. Meert, 1998 The Proterozoic supercontinent Rodinia: paleomagnetically derived reconstructions for 1100 to 800 Ma: EPSL, 154, 1-2, 13-24.
  9. Parker, Sybil P. (Ed.). 1997. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Geology and Mineralogy. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  10. Bates, Robert L. and Julia A. Jackson (Eds.) 1994. Dictionary of Geological Terms. American Geological Instutute. New york: Anchor Books, Doubleday Dell Publishing.
  11. Sloss, L.L. , 1988 Tectonic evolution of the craton in Phanerozoic time: The Geology of North America, Vol D-2, Sedimentary cover - North American Craton 25-51
  12. The Dynamic Earth @ Natural Museum of Natural History - United Plate - shows an overview of this process - online at: http://www.mnh.si.edu/earth/text/4_1_3_1.html


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