Mountain belts reveal the building blocks of the continental crust, and they contain the primary archives of earth history. On this field trip, students explore the bedrock geology of the Island of Newfoundland, which exposes a world-class cross-section of the Appalachian mountain belt. The story of this mountain belt, largely deciphered from the island’s superb coastal outcrops, has helped shape the modern theory of the earth.
During the 1960s, it became clear that 500 million-year-old fossils in western and eastern Newfoundland lived literally an ocean apart (see figure). Our trip will traverse this Iapetus Ocean that straddled the southern hemisphere between around 600 and 400 million years ago. As the Iapetan seafloor sank into the earth’s interior, various continental and oceanic pieces were added to the ancient core of North America, known as Laurentia. The Iapetus Ocean became the Appalachian mountain belt!
On the Avalon Peninsula of eastern Newfoundland, an ancient continental fragment, termed Avalonia, once lay on the side of Iapetus far from Laurentia; beautiful wave-washed sea cliffs contain evidence of ancient glaciation and the very best exposure on the planet of the first multi-celled organisms. Central Newfoundland hosts vestiges of former volcanic islands and deposits formed in the deep abysses of the ocean. In western Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park became a World Heritage Site on the basis of its phenomenal bedrock geology, which archives the birth, life, and death of the Laurentian continental margin.
Through structured field experiences, students will be introduced to basic principles of mineralogy, petrology and geochemistry, sedimentation and stratigraphy, and structural geology and tectonics. Some attention will be given to understanding how the shape of the modern landscape reflects bedrock features, modified by the action of ice, running water, and waves. The main objectives will be for students to:
observe and document (via sketches, maps, and related activities) a variety of rocks, fossils, and structures in their natural settings;
interpret and synthesize the geologic history. In particular, emphasis will be placed on relating the details of “outcrop geology” to plate tectonic settings and process.
While geology will occupy center stage on our field trip to “The Rock”, Newfoundland culture is also original and intriguing. Newfoundland developed in relative isolation, becoming a province of Canada only in 1949. For this reason, the course comes with 1 CCP credit (comparative cultural perspectives).
Readings (copies will be placed on reserve, and also available to read in vans)
Atlantic Geosciences Society, 2001. The Last Billion Years: A Geological History of the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Nimbus Publishing Limited.
Fortey, Richard, 2004. Earth: An Intimate History, Vintage Books, Division of Random House. (Ch 6, p.165-208 on Newfoundland)
Oreskes, Naomi (ed.), 2003. Plate Tectonics: An Insider's History Of The Modern Theory Of The Earth. Westview Press, 448 p. (essay by John Dewey)
Walker, Gabrielle, 2004. Snowball Earth: the story of the great global catastrophe that spawned life as we know it. New York: Crown Publishers, 288 p. (chapter on Mistaken Point)
Logistics The course fee of $1000 includes cost of van, accommodations, entry fees, and most meals. Typically, breakfast will be left to individuals. Most suppers and some lunches will be organized as group meals (although individuals may choose not to participate). We will be camping most of the time. Approximately once a week, there will be an opportunity to do laundry. Weather in Newfoundland at any time of year is highly variable. Participants will need to be well-prepared for some cold, wet, windy, miserable weather. Itinerary (* exercise to be collected for assessment)
Field sites (topics/activities)
Roadcuts near Saint John, NB (introduction to sedimentary structures, stratigraphic laws, and rock cycle)