The 366 daily episodes in 2014 were chronological snapshots of earth history, beginning with the Precambrian in January and on to the Cenozoic in December. You can find them all in the index in the right sidebar. In 2015, the daily episodes for each month were assembled into monthly packages, and a few new episodes were posted. Now, the blog/podcast is on an occasional schedule with diverse topics, and the Facebook Page showcases photos on Mineral Monday and Fossil Friday. Thanks for your interest!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

June 15. Mississippian Plate Tectonics




I’ve said for months that Gondwana is coming toward southeastern North America. It’s still coming, but the remaining ocean between the two continents was really pretty narrow by middle Mississippian time.

The Supercontinent of Gondwana included South America, Africa, Arabia, India, Antarctica, and Australia, plus a few additional bits. One of the most interesting bits, from North America’s point of view, was a triangular zone between what is now west Africa and northern South America, along the Venezuelan coast. That triangular zone included what is now Florida and southern Georgia and parts of Alabama and the Bahamas. It was absolutely part of Gondwana at this time, but fear not, we’ll get it fairly soon.  

North America was tilted relative to its present geography, so that the Mississippian equator ran more or less through the middle of the continent, with what is now the east coast forming a southern coastal edge to the continent. The northeastern part of North America – the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Greenland, were still pretty firmly attached to Europe by the remnants of the Caledonian Mountains, even though they were fairly old by Mississippian time.

The central part of Europe, France, central Germany, and points east, were assembling as a result of small continental blocks that had been shed off the northern flank of Gondwana colliding with the margins of Baltica. What’s now the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, was involved in a complex mountain belt called the Variscan Orogeny, which won’t really culminate until the late Carboniferous and Permian Periods, 20 to 50 million years after the end of the Mississippian or early Carboniferous.

* * *

On June 15, 1991, Mt. Pinatubo on Luzon Island in the Philippines reached the climactic phase of a multi-day eruption. Pinatubo had been inactive in recent memory until the 1991 events, and the mountain was deeply eroded and supported extensive forests and human populations.

The eruption ejected huge quantities of ash, and the reported death toll of about 900 was largely the result of buildings collapsing under the weight of the ash.

Evacuations saved thousands, but the lives of pretty much everyone in the region of the eruption were severely disrupted. The volume of ejected material was the second greatest in the 20th century, estimated to be a bit less than the eruption at Katmai, Alaska, in 1912, which we discussed a week ago. The ash and especially the aerosols Pinatubo put into the atmosphere did have global climatic impacts, reducing the average global temperature by almost a degree Fahrenheit or a half degree Centigrade.


—Richard I. Gibson

Early Mississippian map

Reference: AAPG Memoir 43, Evolution of the Arctic-North Atlantic and the Western Tethys, by Peter A. Ziegler (1988).

U.S. Geological Survey Photograph of Pinatubo eruption in 1991 taken by Richard P. Hoblitt.

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