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Prehistoric Alaska: The land

January 1, 1994

Many Alaskans know the dynamic nature of Alaska’s landscape firsthand. The 1964 earthquake, the 1989 eruption of Mount Redoubt volcano, the frequent earthquakes in the Aleutians and the ever-shifting meanders of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers remind them of constant changes to the land. These changes are part of the continuing story of the geologic growth and development of Alaska during hundreds of millions of years. By geologic time, Alaska has only recently come into existence and the dynamic processes that formed it continue to affect it. The landscape we see today has been shaped by glacier and stream erosion or their indirect effects, and to a lesser extent by volcanoes. Most prominently, if less obviously, Alaska has been built by slow movements of the Earth’s crust we call tectonic or mountain-building.

During 5 billion years of geologic time, the Earth’s crust has repeatedly broken apart into plates. These plates have recombined, and have shifted positions relative to each other, to the Earth’s rotational axis and to the equator. Large parts of the Earth’s crust, including Alaska, have been built and destroyed by tectonic forces. Alaska is a collage of transported and locally formed fragments of crusts As erosion and deposition reshape the land surface, climatic changes, brought on partly by changing ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns, alter the location and extent of tropical, temperate and arctic environments. We need to understand the results of these processes as they acted upon Alaska to understand the formation of Alaska. Rocks can provide hints of previous environments because they contain traces of ocean floor and lost lands, bits and pieces of ancient history.

Publication Year 1994
Title Prehistoric Alaska: The land
Authors Frederic H. Wilson, Florence R. Weber
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Alaska Geographic
Index ID 70189278
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center