Geology 300b - Evolution of North America



Instructor: Professor W.R. Church

Lectures: Monday and Friday 10-11 am; room 116

Labs - Sect 002) Tues 2-5 pm and Sect 003) Wed 2-5 pm; Location: room 17 and room 129.

    Origins, evolution, and tectonism of North American crust. Sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous belts of the Superior and Slave Provinces. Sedimentation and plutonism of the Proterozoic. Grenville Province subdivisions and geochronology. Formation of North America. Phanerozoic of the Appalachians and Cordillera. Paleoclimates and glaciations. Milestones in the evolution of life.

                               COURSE DESCRIPTION

    The creation of continental North America reflects progressive aggregation of sialic crust formed via a sequence of fractionation events (decompression melting; melt distillation) ultimately related to mantle convection engendered by the 'need' of the Earth to lose its primordial and radiogenic heat (Earth Systems I).  The seemingly haphazard nature of the aggregation process in time and space, the nature of the aggregated materials, and the mechanical behaviour of the developing sialic crust reflects secular variations in the thermal structure of the Earth, the geometry of plate tectonic processes, the energy generated by the Solar system, the composition of the Earth's atmosphere, and the increasingly important role of biogenic processes in promoting the fractionation of the sialic material at the Earth's surface (Earth Systems II). The aim of this course will be to examine the historical development of the continental crust of North Americe in terms of each of these factors.

    Because the fractionation processes involved in the conversion of ultramafic mantle material to sialic crustal material are both chemical and mechanical, and because many of the techniques used to determine the age and nature of the fractionation events rely on an analysis of variations in rock chemistry, the course will begin with an explanation of the concept of element compatibility as it bears on the process of ‘mantle to crust’ element fractionation. This will form the basis of an examination of the chemical methods (major elements, trace elements, isotopes) used to identify and date the plate tectonic environments in which rocks form. The remainder of the course will then examine:

  the specific plate interactions that gave rise to North America as an
  accretionary/collisional plate tectonic system;
                  the participation of North America in the evolution of various proposed
                  the evidence for climatic variation during the geological past and its link to the
                  evolution of life.

    Particular attention will be paid to the Cordilleran system as an actualistic plate system, the Appalachians as a collisional plate system, and to the Archean, Southern and Grenville Provinces of Ontario as representative examples of cust formation during the Precambrian.


   The laboratory part of the course will serve as an introduction to Geographic Information Systems, the use of maps to convey spatial geological information, and the computer generation of maps from geological databases:

                1) Geological maps, aerial photo and radarsat digital images;

                2) the identification of plate tectonic terranes by chemical fingerprinting;

3) the management of a geologic mapping database and production of a geological map using the USGS mapping software ‘GSMCAD’;

4) the analysis of geological and remote sensed raster images using IDRISI.

    The instruction in GSMCAD/IDRISI will provide the background for successful participation in the geology part of field course ES350Y.
    (Please bring relevant class handouts and notes to labs.)


    In order to fully participate in this course, students should be able to:

    1) identify, name, and give the chemical formula of the common rock forming minerals;

    2) classify and name the common igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rock types;

    3) distinguish the main plate tectonic processes and environments;

    4) name and describe the common oceanographic and sedimentary depositional environments;

    5) know the arrangement of elements in the Periodic Table, the thermodynamic basis of mineral stability, the Law of Mass Action, and the laws of radioactivity;

    6) recite the Geological Time-Scale;

    7) construct cross-sections from geologic maps;

    8) understand the basis of seismic refraction and reflection;

    9) comprehend the concept of faunal evolution and faunal provincialism;

    10) use a computer running under Windows 95, 98, NT.

    Because of the eclectic nature of the course, there is no required course textbook. Course notes for each lecture and copies of some of the illustrative material used in the lecture will however be placed on the Internet at:


    Caveat: the web site is coldware/courseware  not warmware/learnware, and is provided as a service to facilitate access to the factual and graphical material used in lectures; its existence should not be used as an excuse by students to absent themselves from class!!! Lectures are used for the purpose of providing explanation and promoting discussion, and only secondarily as a means of dispensing information. Participation in class and laboratory activities is therefore a formal requirement.


     Student evaluation will be based on two term tests each worth 20%, and an end of term Final examination worth 60% of the total mark. There is no laboratory examination. However, participation in laboratory sessions is compulsory - attendance will be taken at each lab - and questions concerning the labs will be included in the final examination. Because our current software is only able to accommodate 10 students at a time, each lab section will, if necessary, be split into two groups of students who will alternate in their use of Laboratories 17 (Computers) and 129 (Map Interpretation).
    Please note: students will not be allowed to arbitrarily switch lab sections during the course.


Return to beginning.

Jan 07 Mon ‘So,_what_do_you_remember from 2nd year courses - mineralogy, petrology, stratigraphy, plate tectonics, structural provinces, map interpretation, geochemistry, paleontology?

Jan 08/09 Lab 1 - Organization.  Pre-Test.

Jan 11 Fri    Element compatibility, Kd

Jan 14 Mon Element compatibility, Raleigh Fractionation

Jan 15/16 Lab 2: Gp 1 - GIS1: GIS (vecras.rtf); Gp 2 - GSC Map of Canada (gscmap.rtf).

Jan 18 Fri Crustal compositional variation: fractionation and element plots

Jan 21 Mon Recognition of ancient plate tectonic environments. (Major elements)

Jan 22/23 Lab 3: Gp 1 - GSC Map of Canada (gscmap.rtf);  Gp 2 - GIS1: GIS (vecras.rtf)
Aerial photo interpretation – classification (aerial.rtf).

Jan 25 Fri Recognition of ancient plate tectonic environments. (Trace elements)

Jan 28 Mon Recognition of ancient plate tectonic environments. (Spidergrams)

Jan 29/30 Lab 4: Gp 1 - Aerial photo interpretation – classification (aerial.rtf); Gp 2 - Fingerprinting (by hand).

Feb 01 Fri Isotopes - stable; oxygen, carbon, sulphur.

Feb 04 Mon Isotopes - radiogenic; Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd, Re-Os, U-Pb, K-Ar; dating rocks.

Feb 05/06 Lab 5:  Gp 1 - Fingerprinting (by hand); Gp 2 - Aerial photo interpretation – classification (aerial.rtf);

Feb 08 Fri Isotopes - model ages and Nd epsilon values.

Feb 11 Mon  The Western Cordillera I - growth of a continental margin since the Late Proterozoic.

Feb 12/13 Lab 6: Gp1 - GIS3: Sudbury Geology - Radarsat (usguide.pdf); Gp2 - New Pet, computer fingerprinting;

Feb 15 Fri.  TEST. (click here)

Feb 18 Mon The Western Cordillera II.

Feb 19/Feb20 Lab 7: Gp1 - New Pet, computer fingerprinting; Gp 2 - GIS3: Sudbury Geology – Radarsat.


Feb 25-Mar 01 Conference week.


Mar 04 Mon The Western Cordillera III.

Mar 06/07 Lab 8: Gp1 and 2 – GIS4:  GSMCAD I, drawing a map (gsmcad*.rtf).

Mar 08  Fri The Appalachian - Caledonian collisional system, and other Paleozoic systems.

Mar 11 Mon  Prospectors and Developers Association Meeting, Toronto.

Mar 12/13 Lab 9: Gp1 and 2 – GIS4:  GSMCAD II, drawing a map (gsmcad*.rtf).

Mar 15 Fri  TEST

Mar 18 Mon Supercontinents and cratonic sequences

Mar 19/20 Lab 10: Gp1 - GIS5: Map analysis(idex5.rtf); Gp2 - The Sudbury Map Sheet.

Mar 22 Fri  Seismic structure of Precambrian Provinces

Mar 25 Mon Archean geology - the buoyancy of Archean crust, and the crustal root problem.

Mar 26/27 Lab 11: Gp1 - The Sudbury Map Sheet; Gp2 - GIS5: Map analysis(idex5.rtf).

Mar 29 Fri Good Friday

Apr 01 Mon Lower Proterozoic stratigraphy (Huronian/Animikie/Hurwitz/Labrador Trough; ).

Apr 02/03 Lab 12: Georegistration.

Apr 05 Fri Lower Proterozoic Ocean crust and arcs of the Ungava Peninsula, SW USA, Coronation, and Thompson belts.

Apr 08 Mon The Grenville


Click here to go to lecture - Earth System Science Part I.
Click here to go to lecture - Earth System Science Part II.
Click here to go to lecture - Earth System Science, references.
Click here to go to a source of useful information concerning the Earth system.
Click here to go to lecture - Element compatibility.
Click here to go to lecture - Fractionation.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - GIS1, Vector and Raster Maps.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - GSC digital map of Canada.
Click here to go to lecture - Major Elements.
Click here to go to lecture - Trace Elements.
Click here to go to lecture - Spidergrams.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - GIS2, Pseudocolouring airphotos.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - Fingerprinting.
Click here to go to lecture Isotopes 1.
Click here to go to lecture Isotopes 2.
Click here to go to lecture Isotopes 3.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - GIS3, Remote Sensing.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - NEW PET I.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - NEW PET II.
Click here to go to lecture - Cordillera 1.
Click here to go to lecture - Cordillera 2.
Click here to go to lecture - Cordillera 3.
Click here to go to lecture - Northern Appalachians.
Click here to go to lecture - Southern Appalachians.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - GIS4, USGS GSMCAD mapping softare.
Click here to go to lecture - North American cratonic sequences.
Click here to go to lecture - Seismic.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - GIS5, Boolean images.
-----Click here to go to lab notes - Sudbury Map Interpretation.
Click here to go to lecture - Archean.
Click here to go to lecture - Lower Proterozoic.
Click here to go to lecture - Grenville.
Click here to go to lecture - Late Proterozoic.
Click here to go to lecture - Life.

Click here to return to beginning.

Click here to return to Lecture sequence.

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