North American Continental Birth (02:16)
Cooling lava created tectonic plates after Earth's formation. 90% of Quebec's surface is covered by a craton, a 4.3 billion year old crust fragment. Meteorites bombarded the Earth and the moon. Quebec was under water.
Oldest Rocks on Record (02:20)
Four billion year old rocks discovered in Northern Quebec provide clues to Earth's primitive environment. Scientists use zircon in granite to determine age. If dating is confirmed, the Canadian craton is North America's first land mass.
Pangaea Formation (03:01)
Fragments of Earth's crust created mountains and oceans as they collided and broke apart; water erosion is visible in Colorado's Monument Valley. Geological evidence in Nova Scotia shows North America collided with Africa 400 million years ago, creating the Appalachian Mountains.
Pangaea Separation (03:45)
Two hundred million years ago, Africa and North America moved apart, opening the Atlantic Ocean. Basalt in Nova Scotia shows mantle fissures created volcanic eruptions; poisonous gases triggered a mass extinction and made ecological space for dinosaurs.
Age of the Dinosaurs (02:45)
A mass extinction 200 million years ago killed half of Earth's biodiversity and paved the way for the Cretaceous period. Alberta's Royal Tyrrell Museum contains hundreds of specimens.
Dinosaur Excavation (04:19)
Most Royal Tyrrell Museum specimens come from the Badlands. One hundred million years ago, a west coast subduction zone formed a depression in the continent's center, creating an inland sea. Dinosaurs inhabited the coastal zones; hear how plate tectonics have preserved their fossils.
Western United States Subduction (03:32)
California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington were fragments that grafted onto the North American continent. Collisions provoked volcanic eruptions; magma formed granite domes and veins of rock called dikes that scientists use to map out magma injections.
California's Geological History (02:43)
Crustal fragments colliding with the North American content created the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Researchers study rocks at El Capitan, a granite cliff that was buried ten kilometers underground during the dinosaur age. Over millions of years, erosion has worn down the rock.
Sierra Nevada Erosion (02:19)
Over 90 million years, wind and water have worn down the California mountain range. Chemical reactions in the subduction zone created volcanic eruptions and magma that cooled into granite.
North American Geological Anamolies (03:24)
Scientists believe a plate slid under the North American continent at a shallow angle to create the Rocky Mountains eight million years ago. A super volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is caused by a hot spot.
Yellowstone Super Volcano (02:28)
The last major eruption dates back 642,000 years, during which a caldera formed. Geysers, gas, and heat sources indicate the hot spot is active; another event would cause a global volcanic winter.
Tracking a Super Volcano (02:20)
Salt Lake City geologists observe earthquakes and magma in the Yellowstone hot spot. It changes course as the North American continent stretches apart.
Yellowstone Eruption Risks (02:21)
Scientists say an eruption is as likely as an asteroid hitting the Earth. Hear how eventual cooling will change the landscape.
San Andreas Fault (02:10)
The Pacific and North American plates move in opposite directions—creating a 1,300 kilometer fissure. In one million years, California will become an island. Scientists monitor regional seismic activity.
Hayward Fault (02:52)
The San Andreas Fault has created secondary fissures. Split sidewalks and cracked buildings provide slow slipping evidence. The last major earthquake was in 1868.
California Seismic Risk (02:04)
Large earthquakes hit San Francisco in 1906 and 1989; another is predicted in the next 30 years. Retrofitted buildings reduce damage and P-waves emitted from a fault can provide a few seconds warning.
San Francisco Earthquake Scenario (03:29)
Hear how the Hayward Fault will impact surrounding infrastructure in a major seismic event. The North American continent continues to evolve as tectonic plates move.
Credits: North America—Voyage of the Continents, Series 2 (00:59)
Credits: North America—Voyage of the Continents, Series 2
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