North Carolina/geology

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Earth: United States: North Carolina: geology


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Just over one billion years ago, "plate tectonics began the pushing and shoving that eventually led to the Southern Appalachian mountains as we know them. After that first collision came another some 300 million years later that created an ocean where the Appalachians now stand. Jump forward another 100 million years and a trench formed, along which volcanoes were created. Then, roughly 200 million years ago, the plate to the east, called the Piedmont, began pushing up over one to the west, called the Carolina. In doing so, it scraped off much of the old ocean floor, creating the Appalachians, jagged peaks that likely reached 20,000 or more feet in elevation." [1]

Durham Triassic Basin

Between Chapel Hill (MP270) and Raleigh (MP 286) I-40 crosses low-lying topography of the Triassic age "redbeds." Deposited during the time of the dinosaurs in rift valleys formed as the Atlantic Ocean opened, the Triassic mudstones and claystones are the mainstay of North Carolina’s brick industry. Research Triangle Park and RDU Airport lie within the Durham Triassic Basin. The ancient Jonesboro Fault near MP286 forms the eastern basin boundary.


The Durham area also contains 300 million year old rocks of the Durham Triassic Basin. The Durham Basin was formed by the rifting (pulling apart) of Piedmont Rocks during the Mesozoic Era when Pangaea began to break apart and the Atlantic Ocean began to open. .. The Durham Basin never was invaded by the sea. Instead it filled with sedimentary deposits that formed in lakes, rivers, swamps and alluvial fans as the climate alternated from dry to humid. None of the sediments are very far from their parent Piedmont rock sources and so have 'arkosic' composition. Arkosic rocks tend to be reddish in color, a characteristic pervasive in the sedimentary rocks of the Durham Basin. Coal can be found in the Basin as well as Mesozoic aged petrified wood. Recently, three new species of dinosaur were found in a quarry in the Basin just south of Durham.


  • 1948-12-23 Structural Analysis of the West Border of the Durham Triassic Basin: GSA Bulletin