Newfoundland has been called the “Patagonia of geology.”
The geologic history is enormously complex, but to understand some of it, nothing substitutes for visually observing the rock, plant, and animal history on display in Canada’s national parks.
For a nongeologist it is surprising that the science of plate tectonics is so recent. Robert Stevens, a pioneering Newfoundland geologist first advanced these ideas in a published paper in 1970.
In brief, the story of plate tectonics is constant and incremental movement of continents over millions of years. Masses collide and separate, drifting to the current spread of North American, African, and other continents. An extraordinary experience in Newfoundland is to stand where the African continent divided – to put a foot on where Africa separated and began its long drift.
The theory of plate tectonics explains the formation and change of oceans, the location and action of earthquake belts and volcanoes, our landscape of mountains and coastlines, and so much more about rock, plant, and animal history. The Newfoundland and Labrador Province and the Canadian National Parks have done an exceptional job of making this history and science accessible.
The nexus of this plate tectonic history is in Gros Morne National Park, a 700 square mile playground of rocks, lakes, mountains, forests, caves, stacks, bogs, and beaches. The park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 because of its unique visibility of geological history. Gros Morne exhibits incredible and undisturbed natural beauty, science-on-display, and unique recreational challenges.
We had the privilege of exploring several of Gros Morne’s great treasures along with our expert friends Jill Bubier and George Stone: Western Brook Pond, Green Point, the Tablelands, Lobster Cove Head, Cow Head, and Trout River Pond. Images from these hikes are shown below
One highlight was the opportunity to travel by boat into the midst of the fresh water fjords (Western Brook Pond), carved by glaciers out of ancient mountain rock, 1.25 billion years old. Another highlight was the opportunity to hike the on the earth’s crust and upper mantle (the Tablelands) – the only such site in North America.
Still another was the chance to experience 30 million years of geological history in a short walk at Green Point. Because this rock history is tilted up on its side (115 degrees), you can see millions of years of change in vertical slices in just a few short steps. Crucial to the science of this history is the discovery of particular fossils along this vertical rock “sandwich” that functioned as markers of the changes in geological time.
Still another was the experience of hiking along the earth’s mantle, the only such site in North America.