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Geology of Canada

Canadian geology spans four billion years of Earth history. The oldest rocks are preserved in the stable Archean crustal blocks of which the largest include the Superior, Slave, Hearne and North Atlantic cratons. These blocks are also the repository for much of Canada’s gold, copper, iron, zinc and diamonds. The Archean cratons were stitched together by Paleoproterozoic mountain belts that resulted in supercontinent Nuna and host important deposits of nickel, copper and platinum group elements. The Mesoproterozoic is dominated by the Grenville orogen another old mountain belt which extends from central Ontario to Labrador. Sedimentary basins of these ages are prominently represented on the opposite (northwest) margin of the Canadian Shield in the Northwest Territories.

The modern geometry of Canada has its origins in the breakup of the super continent Rodinia. Neoproterozoic rifting led to new ocean basins and to trailing continental margins now prominently represented in the Appalachians, western Cordillera and Arctic Islands. Plate tectonics in the lower Paleozoic introduced oceanic crust to the rock record of Newfoundland and southern Quebec and accretion of exotic crustal fragments in Atlantic Canada and the High Arctic. Similarly, warm ocean conditions in Cambrian to Devonian time produced widespread carbonate platforms over the St. Lawrence Lowlands, the Western Interior, Mackenzie Corridor, Hudson Bay and the southern Arctic.

Events of the Mesozoic are prominently represented by the accretion of continental fragments to the western margin of North America. This remained a tectonically active region into Eocene time and during this interval produced important deposits of copper, lead, zinc, molybdenum, gold, silver, tungsten and other commodities. The depositional record of these events is partly recorded in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin which is a prolific producer of oil, gas and coal. Hydrocarbons are also an important part of the sediment accumulation story since the Jurassic off the East Coast. Likewise, the tectonically active Cretaceous to Eocene record in the Arctic Islands relates to the origin of the Arctic Ocean and the independent plate motions of Greenland.


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