Geology of Europe

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Surficial geology of Europe

The geology of Europe is varied and complex, and gives rise to the wide variety of landscapes found across the continent, from the Scottish Highlands to the rolling plains of Hungary. Europe's most significant feature is the dichotomy between highland and mountainous Southern Europe and a vast, partially underwater, northern plain ranging from England in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east. These two halves are separated by the Pyrenees and the Alps-Carpathians mountain chain. The northern plains are delimited in the west by the Scandinavian Mountains and the mountainous parts of the British Isles. The southern mountainous region is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Major shallow water bodies submerging parts of the northern plains are the Celtic Sea the North Sea, the Baltic Sea complex and Barents Sea.

From the standpoint of plate tectonics, the ongoing northward drive of the African plate into the Eurasian plate in the Mediterranean basin is the most prominent aspect of the European scene today. The pressure exerted by the African plate is the overall cause of the rise of the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Carpathian mountains. Limestones and other sediments, the ancient floor of the Tethys Sea, are pushed high and now make up much of these ranges. A submarine back-arc basin develops south of Italy, which is one of several Mediterranean mini-continental fragments caught between the two plates. This buckling of the Earth's crust forces up Italy's mountains and stimulates active earthquake faults and volcanoes such as Vesuvius. Iberia, another separate terrain unit, has been rotated and emplaced against the rest of Europe by the plate collision.

Moving north from the Alps and other ranges, tectonic activity largely fades away in the stable Baltic craton. One exception to this trend is a hot spot, rising from the mantle underneath central Germany, which has been responsible in geologic time for volcanoes such as the Vogelsberg Mountains in Hesse and currently provides heat to hot springs and lakes in the region.


Europe consists of the following cratons and terranes and microcontinents:

Geologic timeline[edit]

~2300-2200?? Ma Baltica The Baltic Shield (Fennoscandia) was formed from five province blocks: Svecofennian, Sveconorwegian, Karelian, Belmorian and Kola,
2300-2100 Ma Baltica The Sarmatian craton was formed from other blocks,
 ???? Ma Baltica The Volgo-Uralia shield was formed,
1900-1800 Ma Baltica The East European craton (≈ Baltica) was formed from the above three cratons, to become a part of the supercontinent Columbia,
~1500 Ma Baltica The Nena Continent composed of Arctica, East Antarctica and Baltica, was splitoff from Columbia,
 ???? Ma Baltica East Antarctica was shaved off from Nena,
~1100 Ma Baltica Baltica and Arctica, now part of a Laurentia block, was joined to Rodinia,
~750 Ma Baltica The Baltica/Laurentia block, AKA Proto-Laurasia, was shaved off the splitup Rodinia,
~550 Ma Baltica Proto-Laurasia broke apart, forming Baltica and Laurentia,
~530 Ma Avalonia Avalonia broke off from Gondwana by rifting
~450 Ma Avalonia Avalonia came in contact with Baltica
~440 Ma Balt./Aval. Laurentia and Baltica collided to form Euramerica, Avalonia attached to the eastern coast of Laurentia. Mountains built up in this event can be seen in the British Isles and Norway, along with the Appalachians of New England in North America.
~350 Ma Balt./Aval. Euramerica collided with Gondwana forming Pangea, while Avalonia was squished to a narrow strip in between Gondwana and Laurasia.
~300 Ma Balt./Kaza. Siberia and Kazakhstania were the last continents to adjoin Pangea towards the Baltica block, thereby forming a Laurasia subcontinent of Pangea. The Ural Mountains are a remainder of this tectonic event.
~270 Ma Cimmeria The Cimmerian Plate split off from Gondwana by rifting,
~190 Ma Baltica Laurasia split off from Gondwana by the widening of the Atlantic Ocean, and very soon afterwards split into Laurentia (North America) and a Eurasian continent.
50 Ma — present As the continents approached their present configuration, Europe experienced periods of land connection to North America via Greenland, resulting in colonization by North American animals. During these times, higher than present sea levels sometimes fragmented Europe into island subcontinents. As time passed, sea levels fell, with seas retreating from the plains of western Russia, establishing the modern connection to Asia. Asian animal species then colonized Europe in large numbers.

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