How Much Do You Know About the Geology of North America?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Perhaps you think you know a lot about the history of North America: the Mexican War for independence, the French fur traders who explored the northern woods of Canada, the English colonists who left everything behind to start a new life on the other side of the globe. But all that is recent history, put in perspective. North America is a continent 700 million years in the making. It has a geologic history that precedes homo sapiens altogether, even the earliest peoples who crossed the land bridge from Asia.

Why is geological history important? Because when you think about it, nearly every outdoor landmark you've enjoyed as a traveler -- the lakes you've swum in or mountains you've climbed or skied -- are the result of geologic processes. From Mt. Denali to the Grand Canyon to Niagara Falls, the continent's most fantastic tourist destinations are the result of dynamic processes deep in the earth. That's not to mention the mineral resources that keep life on the surface going, like Canada's vast oil supplies or the gold in Western mines.

How much do you know about how geology has shaped the North American landscape? We'll help you find out with a 35-question quiz on the mountains, lakes, calderas and other natural phenomena that make North America what it is today!

The Continental Divide mainly divides North America in terms of ______.

The Continental Divide is where North America's waters stop flowing east toward the Atlantic and start running west to the Pacific. It extends from northern Canada all the way down the Rocky Mountains, to the U.S. state of New Mexico.

Is North America's Continental Divide the only one in the world?

Central and South America have continental divides as well, essentially the extension of North America's. In fact, all continents except Antarctica have them.

Which of these rivers carved out the Grand Canyon?

The Mississippi might be a better-known name in America, but it was the Colorado and its tributaries that created the Grand Canyon. It's truly amazing what water can do, given enough time!

What geologic feature (of which there are five) is (mostly) shared by Canada and the U.S.?

Their names are Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior. Four of the five Great Lakes border both Canada and the United States (only Lake Michigan is solely in the U.S.).

How much of the world's fresh water is contained in The Great Lakes?

It's hard to believe, but generally The Great Lakes contain about 21 percent of the world's fresh water (The percentage can fluctuate a bit due to weather conditions). Only Russia's Lake Baikal contains more, usually about 22 to 23 percent.

Which is the deepest and coldest of The Great Lakes?

Lake Superior lives up to its name, being the largest of The Great Lakes in both volume and surface area. At its deepest point, it reaches 406 meters. Only Crater Lake in Oregon is deeper.

True or false: The Great Lakes are connected.

Lakes tend to need inlets and outlets to remain healthy; they are less likely to thrive as a closed system. The Great Lakes are attached to each other through waterways, like St. Mary's River.

In which nation would you find the Altiplano?

The Altiplano ("high plain") is a high plateau between the two Sierra Madre ranges, Occidental and Oriental. It is mostly desert, with some forestation.

The North American Cordillera is known as the _______ of North America.

The North American Cordillera is the series of mountain ranges running down the western half of the continent, from northern Canada through Mexico. It is sometimes reduced to "the Rockies," but the Rockies are only a large part of it.

Which mountain peak is the highest in North America?

Denali, in Alaska, was formerly known as Mt. McKinley. During the Obama administration, it was restored officially to the name that indigenous peoples called it.

Which of these mountain ranges is in California?

OK, a little bit of the Sierra Nevada is in Nevada. This is important, because it's where skiers and snowboarders go when they want to play the slot machines!

Where would you find the Basin and Range province?

This large geographic region is mostly associated with western Mexico and the southwestern United States. However, it extends through Nevada to touch a little of Washington and Idaho. It's that big!

Where would you find the Snake River Basin?

The Snake River begins in Wyoming and travels west. It cuts through Idaho, Oregon, and finally merges with Washington's Columbia River, which carries its waters to the Pacific.

Yellowstone Caldera is the largest ________ in the United States.

A caldera is a deep bowl-like depression left when a volcano erupts repeatedly. Just because Yellowstone Caldera's eruptions are over now, doesn't mean they're over forever. A future eruption could cover North America's skies with ash and play havoc with its environment.

The changes in Earth's surface overall, not just North America, occur in the crust and upper mantle. Jointly, they are known as the ________.

"Lithosphere" comes from the Greek word for "rock." The asthenosphere is the part of the mantle just underneath the lithosphere.

The lithosphere is divided into tectonic _____.

As you'd expect, North American mostly rests on the North American plate. But the Pacific, Juan de Fuca, and Cocos plates also underlie small parts of it.

On the Pacific Coast, the Farallon Plate gradually moved under the North American plate, a process known as _________.

This happened millions of years ago, and created the North America Cordillera. The Farallon Plate, named for islands off the coast of Northern California, has since broken up, and its remnant pieces are known by other names.

Which U.S. state is known as "the Silver State" for its rich deposits of the precious metal?

Of late, this is a misnomer: gold mining is far more profitable in Nevada. But "Golden State" was already taken.

The North American plate underlies which country that isn't considered part of the North American continent?

Geology does not recognize political boundary-making. Bermuda, Iceland and part of western Russia are on the North American plate.

In which country would you find the Appalachians?

The Applachian Range encompasses several smaller mountain ranges. In Canada, this includes the Long Range Mountains and the Notre Dame range.

Canada's gold rush of the 1890s is better known as the __________ Gold Rush.

It's also sometimes known as the Yukon Gold Rush. Many prospectors left emptyhanded and disillusioned, unable to wrest the precious metal from the Klondike's rough, perpetually cold terrain.

Canada is home to hundreds of ice masses that move under their own weight, better known as __________.

Not surprisingly, given its northern latitudes, Canada has a large number of glaciers. About nine of America's states are also home to glaciers.

True or false: Mexico home to a few glaciers.

Mexico's glaciers are located on three of its tallest, coldest peaks. Those peaks are all in Mexico's southern volcanic belt.

In which country would you find the Great Basin?

The Great Basin is a region marked by its watersheds and its arid climate. It covers some of the western U.S. and Mexico's Baja California.

Which of these bodies of water is part of the Canadian Shield?

The Canadian Shield is part of the larger North American Craton. It extends into the United States, but not as far as Crater Lake or Lake Tahoe.

How was Oregon's deep Crater Lake formed?

Crater Lake is the deepest in the U.S., formed when a volcano fell in on itself after multiple eruptions. Crater Lake's deepest point is nearly 3,000 feet.

Which mountain range would you find in Arkansas and Oklahoma?

The Ouachitas are not America's most imposing mountain range. The highest peak, Mount Magazine, stands less than 3,000 feet high.

Where in the United States should you move if you are afraid of earthquakes?

North Dakota has the lowest rate of earthquakes in the United States. However, it should be noted that no state is earthquake-free.

Which of these Canadian lakes is North America's deepest?

Great Slave Lake is in the Northwest Territories. You might know it from the Animal Planet series, "Ice Lake Rebels," about people who live there on houseboats.

Canada has an abundance of oil; only _____ has more oil reserves.

Canada is able to export more oil than it imports, thanks mostly to a geologic feature called the Athabasca Oil Sands. They are located in the province of Alberta.

The junction of the Pacific Plate and North American Plate is called the _____________.

It's impossible to live in California for any length of time and not know about the San Andreas Fault. Predicting the next "Big One" (earthquake) is the state's unofficial pastime.

Which state not generally known for earthquakes was struck by several large ones in the early 19th century?

New Madrid, Missouri, suffered several largequakes in 1811 and 1812. This historical incident isn't as well-known as other natural disasters because the population there, at the time, was fairly low.

Pococatepetl, Matlacueitl, and Pico de Orizaba are all Mexican __________.

These are all part of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. It runs across southern Mexico, from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico.

What is the name of the paleocontinent that immediately preceded the North American continent?

This relatively-recent supercontinent is named for a Christian saint. It is also reflected in the name of the St. Lawrence River, shared by Canada and the United States.

Part of Laurentia still exists in the form of a stable lithospheric core called the North American _______.

The North American Craton is also called the Laurentia Craton. A craton is a large and stable part of the earth's lithosphere (the crust and mantle, combined).

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