47 Introduction

Module 16

Geologic History of North America

a map showing the age of geology in the US
Figure 1. Relief map showing the varying age of bedrock underlying North America. This cartographic tapestry is woven from a geologic map and a shaded relief image. This combination reveals the geologic history of North America through the interrelation of rock type, topography and time. Regional surface processes as well as continent-scale tectonic events are exposed in the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension, geologic time. From most recent to oldest, age is indicated by: yellow, green, blue, red. See the time scale in the gallery below.


If you took a road trip across the continental United States of America you would see significant changes in the landscape in terms of the topography, rocks, soils, geological structures, and plant life that are evident even through the car window on the highway. Regions vary in their geologic history, from the rocky coastline of New England, to the plains of the Midwest, to the sharp peaks of the Rocky Mountains, to the volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest. These observable differences across the United States can be broken into physiographic provinces. Physiographic provinces are identifiable by their distinctive landforms, geologic features, and suites of rocks.

Select an image to view larger

Figure 2. This is the time scale for the North America Tapestry of Time and Terrain map.

Module Objectives

At the completion of this module you will be able to:

  1. Distinguish the different physiographic provinces of the United States based on their topography, geology, and other features.
  2. Describe the tectonic origin of the major mountain ranges in the United States.
  3. Explain why the central portion of the United States differs from the edges of the continent.


See the Schedule of Work for dates of availability and due dates.

Be sure to read through the directions for all of this module’s activities before getting started so that you can plan your time accordingly. You are expected to work on this course throughout the week.


The Physiographic Provinces of the United States of America


Check out this interactive map from the National Park Service – click on a province to learn more.

Physiographic Provinces Map


Nova, Making North America: Origins

Module 16 Assignment: Making North America

10 points

After you complete the reading, you can start working on Module 16 Assignment – Making North America

Module 16 Quiz

10 points

Module 16 Quiz has 10 multiple-choice questions and is based on the content of the Module 16 readings and Assignment 16.

The quiz is worth a total of 10 points (1 points per question). You will have only 10 minutes to complete the quiz, and you may take this quiz only once. Note: that is not enough time to look up the answers!

Make sure that you fully understand all of the concepts presented and study for this quiz as though it were going to be proctored in a classroom, or you will likely find yourself running out of time.

Keep track of the time, and be sure to look over your full quiz results after you have submitted it for a grade.

Your Questions and Concerns…

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

General course questions: If your question is of a general nature such that other students would benefit from the answer, then go to the discussions area and post it as a question thread in the “General course questions” discussion area.

Personal questions: If your question is personal, (e.g. regarding my comments to you specifically), then send me an email from within this course.


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Physical Geology Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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