Surprisingly Wonderful Newfoundland: OUR PLANET Geological History At Its Best


Ocean, Bay of Bulls, colorful and ruff landscape
On the ocean at Bay of Bulls, Newfoundland

“It’s the place where land, water and sky embrace like old friends”.

-Newfoundland Saying

At the beginning of 2012 I began looking for a destination for my next photo safari, after being in Africa the previous year I must confess it was quite challenging to find a place that I really wanted to visit as much as I wanted to visit the Masai Mara in Kenya, where I would go back every year if I could.

Cape shore Newfoundland, red cabin, ocean
Cape Shore, New Foundland

One thing I was sure of, my next adventure would be somewhere in North America. I wanted to explore some of the amazing landscapes and wildlife that exists in this continent.  So many places and very difficult to decide until I saw an ad in a  magazine about a photography workshop in Newfoundland focusing on puffins and I thought yes…that’s it….I always wanted to see puffins in the wild, not that I had seen them in captivity before, but that was it, the decision had been made and the next step would be to find the best way to get there and get the most of the experience.

Atlantic Puffin

I did a lot of research about Newfoundland and its capital St. John’s and learned about all the photographic possibilities the island offered.  I wanted a trip that would provide the opportunity to see everything that I wanted, from small fishing villages, one of my passions and longest never ending photography project, see Protecting a way of life…, to whale watching, beautiful landscapes and of course cute little creatures like the lovely puffins, among many other seabirds.

900Humpback whale at sunset

I arrived in St. John’s on July 15, 2012 and left on July 22 with almost 8,000 pictures, needless to say Newfoundland and the places I visited where everything I expected and more.

I plan to cover this trip in several posts but here is one of the most interesting facts about this Canadian island which almost became a separate country:

The Island of Newfoundland with the Avalon Peninsula enlarged
The Island of Newfoundland with the Avalon Peninsula enlarged

Many books divide Newfoundland in 3 or 4 regions; for the sake of simplicity I’ll keep it to three as this post is not intended to be a treatise in the island’s geological history. There is the western region, the central region and the eastern region also known as the Avalon peninsula where I spent the entire duration of my trip.

Right away, while on the boat that would take us to see our first whales and puffins I could see that there was something unique about the landscape, the shape of the rocks, the different layers of colors, it was magic. I took hundreds of pictures but anxious to see the surrounding wildlife, I said to myself how beautiful and moved on to the next subject.

Bay Bulls Landscape, seabirds and a bald eagle in the background can you see her?

It was not until our last day, also in a boat late in the afternoon, going to see one last time the whales and the puffins, that the captain of the boat, an excellent and very knowledgeable host by the way, explained to us why is Newfoundland’s landscape so special. It turns out that the island is indeed a fine example of the geological history of our planet, those three sections not only belong to different geological eras but they are also from opposite sides of the hemisphere. And how is that possible?

CapeShore Landscape

Before I begin my little story, a word of caution, I’m not a geologist, I’m just a super fan of this planet and its 4.54 billion years of mind-blowing natural history, and if any geologist or geophysicist ends up reading this post I want to apologize in advance for oversimplifying this.

Once upon a time, around 1000 million years ago there was a supercontinent called Rodinia, this was way before Pangea. 750 million years ago Rodinia began to break-up forming the continent of Laurentia, a supercontinent that included areas found in the present day’s continents of the Northern Hemisphere:  specifically, North America, Europe and Asia. The break-up also created what would later become Gondwana, another supercontinent which included areas found in the present-day continents of the southern hemisphere: India, Africa, South America, Australia, and Antarctica, with the Iapetus Ocean between them. Other land masses formed after the break-up but let’s concentrate on these two.

CapeShore Landscape

For much of its history Iapetus lay in the southern hemisphere, roughly parallel to the equator. Its closure around 300 million years ago resulted in the collision of Laurentia and Gondwana, the Appalachian mountain building process, which crosses the United States from Georgia and Alabama all the way up to Newfoundland, and the creation of another supercontinent, the famous Pangea.

Oblique rotational collision between Laurentia and Gondwana according to Hatcher (2002). a: Initial contact between Laurentia and Gondwana during the Late Mississippian; b: southward motion and clockwise rotation of Gondwana during the Early Pennsylvanian; c: continued rotation and southward movement of Gondwana in the Late Pennsylvanian; and d: head-on Laurentia Gondwana collision in the Early Permian

It is believed that Pangea became one solid mass around 270 m.y.a., it stayed like that for approximately 70 million years and began to break apart around 200 m.y.a. Two super continents began to emerge, Laurasia and Gondwanaland and two major oceans joined them, the Atlantic and the Indian oceans. Here is a link to an interactive visualization of the break-up of Pangea.

According to the continental drift theory, the supercontinent Pangaea began to break up about 225-200 million years ago, eventually fragmenting into the continents as we know them today. Break-up of Pangaea – From USGS site –

Tectonic plates continued to move to form what we see today, but if you think that this is the way things are going to stay, well you are very wrong, because tectonic plates never stop moving and we should expect more continental drifts and who knows perhaps another supercontinent like Rodinia or Pangea 100 million years in the future.

Common Murres, Bay of Bulls Newfoundland

So what this all have to do with Newfoundland? Well in all this back and forth of colliding land masses, today’s Newfoundland’s three main regions are formed by a piece of what use to be Laurentia -Eastern North America and the Appalachians Mountain chain (Western section), while Central Newfoundland is formed by parts of what once was the Iapetus Ocean floor and islands,

and most interestingly is the fact that Eastern Newfoundland is formed by fragments of Gondwana -specifically parts of what is today North West Africa, yes you read well Africa- that lingered around after the break-up of Pangea. Now you tell me, if you are not as fascinated by this as I am?

To see more pictures of the beautiful island please visit Newfoundland Landscape

9 responses to “Surprisingly Wonderful Newfoundland: OUR PLANET Geological History At Its Best”

  1. Nice post! I’m a geologist (BSc) but did my schooling on the west coast so I never learnt too much about Newfoundland’s geological history. Fantastic that you are interested in geology and I don’t think you over-simplified it too much at all. Keep up the blogging, cheers!

  2. Hi Stephanie, thank you very much! It can be so complicated to explain using the terminology that probably only geophysicist would understand that it took me a while to figure a way to translate the information in something that everybody can understand without insulting the specialists…

  3. hi, just read this..interesting article! I am a Newfoundlander altho I am living elsewhere now. But as they say ‘ there’s no place like home’!! I would like to make one correction, if you don’t mind…the Capital is not St John, but St John’S. St John is a city in New Brunswick!!

  4. Just returned from Newfoundland. In reading some history, I read about Newfoundland being part of a southern hemisphere continent. This blew me away and I couldn’t wait to read more about that phenomena……thanks for “keeping it simple” for my ungeologic brain to absorb. Fascinating stuff and well described. Cheers, SF

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