Europe Geology

By | January 8, 2023

Europe’s plate tectonic growth began in the Precambrian and was far advanced when Europe and Asia for approximately 300 million years ago by collision in the Uralids was united into one large continent, Eurasia. The plate movements in the Precambrian and Paleozoic were for several periods faster than today, and Europe was led from one active plate boundary to another. During its operation, Europe annexed several island arcs and microcontinents and collided several times with large continents; it resulted in repeated mountain chain folds. When Europe seceded, it sometimes left parts of its continental crust with the collision partner, but in the long run, the continent grew to the west and south.

A distinction is made between a pre-Cambrian core area (Baltic Shields and the Eastern European Platform), the Caledonian and Varisian growth belts in Western and Central Europe, and the Cimmerian and Alpine belts in SE and Southern Europe. Large parts of Europe are covered by younger sediments deposited on stable platforms or in subsidence basins and burial depressions. Tertiary volcanic rocks form scattered deposits on the continent and the British Isles; The Faroe Islands and Iceland are made up of plateau basalt. In Iceland, which lies on the mid-Atlantic ridge, volcanism continued. Mediterranean volcanoes are particularly associated with young plate boundaries and active subduction zones.

Precambrian Europe (3500-550 million years). The continental crust in NE Europe consists of 3500-800 million years old bedrock rocks mainly formed and collected during archaic and early Proto-Zero mountain range folds within 1600 million years before now. For approximately 1000 million years ago, when the Sveconorvegian mountain range was formed, the area collided with the continent Laurentia (North America-Greenland) and became part of a very large Proterozoic continent, which for 700-550 million years ago was broken up again. While Europe drifted towards the South Pole, during the Cadomic mountain range folding, an elongated folding belt and arch system developed at an active plate boundary off Eastern Europe, the so-called Pre-Uralids, which build the Timan Mountains and form part of the Ural Mountains.

Paleozoic Europe (550-250 million years). At the break-up, Europe left large parts of its pre-Cambrian crust in the southern hemisphere. The rest, Baltica, formed the germ of contemporary Europe. During the subsequent Caledonian mountain range folds (approximately 500-400 million before now), changing plate movements led small and large areas of new and old continental crust to collision with Baltica. When the microcontinent Avalonia reached from the south, the Avalonean Caledonids were folded up. Most of this folding belt is now deeply buried under younger sediments, in northern Germany and the southernmost part of Denmark. The Caledonians in Scotland, Norway and Sweden originated when Laurentia from the northwest collided with Avalonia and Baltica. Before the Caledonian folds were completed, new plates with continental fragments and young island arcs were on their way from the south; it heralded the varicose (hercynic) mountain range folds that culminated in late Devon to early Carboniferous when Gondwanathe continent collided with Europe. This created an up to 1000 km wide growth belt in southwestern, central and central Europe. The meandering course of the mountain ranges is due to the fact that two large peninsulas in Gondwana and several microcontinents, Armorica, was pushed into Europe. The intense shooting caused relatively light crust to form deep “roots” beneath the young mountains. When the compression ceased, the folding chain rose so fast that the mountains became unstable and “sank together” along sliding planes. Transformations in the depths gradually made the roots so heavy that they broke off and sank into the asthenosphere, while hot material from here and alkaline magma rose up and spread out under the remaining, thinner crust. The heat supply resulted in the melting of many granites. As Europe late in Carbon lay close to the equator, A sinking foreland basin was developed, where in addition to sand and clay, plant material was deposited from surrounding tropical swamp forests. The coal deposits in the British Isles, in Belgium, the Ruhr area and Śląsk (formerly Silesia) arose from later heat conversion of these layers. The dilapidated, varicose fold mountains are now exposed in separate masses, The Armorican Massif, the Central Massif and the Bohemian Massif. When Europe collided with Asia late in Carbon to early Permian, lively fault activity prevailed southwest of Baltica; several fracture zones developed in NW-SE and NS-going directions, and alkaline-acid to alkaline magmas penetrated. This formed The Oslo Rift, the Fennoscandian Border Zone and the fault systems that, in later revival, led to the development of the Tornquist zone between the North Sea and the Black Sea. Early in Perm, two wide east-west basins were formed, which were partly separated by a barrier from northern England to Ringkøbing-Fyn Højderyggen. When the Zechstein Sea from the north penetrated and filled the basins, these were located at approximately 20 °, and desert-like climate caused such a strong evaporation that several series of evaporites with thick layers of rock salt precipitated. This so-called Zechstein salt was buried during the Mesozoic and Tertiary under kilometer-thick sediments and thereby flowed together in cushion structures. Where the salt penetrated the overlying layers, it rose up into elongated salt ridges and like round salt thrushes. Several oil and gas deposits in the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea are linked to these salt structures.

Young Europe (the last 250 million years). At the beginning of the Mesozoic, Europe was part of the supercontinent Pangea, but during the Triassic Jura, Eurasia split from Africa, and at the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, Europe was later also separated from North America-Greenland. While this was going on, two new crust growth belts were added to Europe’s active plate boundaries to the south and east; first the cimmeric, then the alpine. The Cimmerian Growth Belt from the Triassic-Old Cretaceous encompasses the mountain ranges around the Black Sea. West of this, a number of contiguous scattering oceans, the so-called Mediterranean Tethys Sea, were opened in the Jurassic-Early Cretaceous.. This sea was closed again when Africa and the microcontinent Adria in the Late Cretaceous-Tertiary collided with Europe. This created the southern alpine mountain ranges of southern Europe, The Betic Cordilleras, the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Carpathians. At the end of the period, decomposition materials from the growing mountains were deposited as molasses in sinking basins.

In the Paleogene and early in the Quaternary, the processes in the depths below the alpine collision belt remained active. In the western Mediterranean, the rise of hot material from the asthenosphere led to approximately 24-19 million years ago for local seabed dispersal and opening of the Provencal Ligurian Sea. Thereby, an elongated microplate with Corsica and Sardinia, which lay close to the south of France and northeastern Spain, was driven counterclockwise and rotated 40-90 °Counterclockwise to its current position closer to Italy. As the subduction zone east of Corsica and Sardinia shifted its slope so that it reached below the Apennines, Tuscany’s young volcanic province was formed; at the same time, the upper plate was raised, causing young sediment covers in the Apennines to slide towards the sinking Adriatic below the Posletten and the Adriatic Sea. The Tyrrhenian Sea was opened for approximately 5-2 million years ago north of the arcuate Calabrian-Sicilian folding belt, which has developed in the upper plate over a subduction zone where the African ocean floor plate from the Ionian Sea has sunk into Sicily and southern Italy. The eruptions of the volcanoes of the Aeolian Islands testify to the magmatic processes in the deep parts of this zone. The interplay of the deep processes further caused the neogene Mediterranean to become constricted, so that by evaporation thick layers of salt precipitated. The alpine folding belts of southeastern Greece, Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus now belong, like the Taurus Mountains in Turkey, to the seismically highly active Anatolian microplate, which is being liberated from the Eurasian. At the depths of the sea south of Crete and Cyprus, the African ocean floor is slowly moving north and down below the microplate, but the pressure from the faster Arab plate in the east forces the Anatolian to rotate counterclockwise. It causes displacements in the curved fault zone in northern Turkey and stretching of the crust under the Aegean Sea.

The alpine collisions propagated far north under Western Europe. This led to the formation of the Rhône, Bresse and Rhing graves and increased subsidence in the Central Grave and the Viking Grave in the North Sea. Worn-out massifs were transformed into quarry mountains, and in the sediment basins elongated ridges arose, along Tornquist zones. At the same time, the Mesozoic layers on SV-Bornholm were “alpine” folded.

During the Quaternary ice ages, large parts of northern Europe as well as the Alps were several times covered by ice caps and glaciers, which at the time of the melting left a cover of moraine and meltwater deposits. In front of the rim of the northern European ice cap, the finest material, clay, silt and fine sand, was deposited by the wind as loess. South of the icy and loosely covered areas, strongly reddish soils have been preserved in many places, which were formed by weathering during the warmer climate of the Tertiary period.

Europe’s ore deposits

Europe has a very traditional mining industry with numerous, early known ore deposits, such as mining of tin in Cornwall in the Bronze Age, silver in Kongsberg under Christian IV and copper in southern Germany and in Cyprus. The vast majority of the deposits are now depleted, which has created major social problems in communities that have lived off mining for generations. Known examples are the closure of coal mines in the UK and Germany. Deposits of iron ore and coal in Britain, Lorraine and western Germany were important preconditions for the breakthrough of industrialization in the 1800’s.

Mineral deposits associated with granitic rocks are known, among other things. from Cornwall, the Harz Mountains, the Ore Mountains, France, the Iberian Peninsula and from the North, from which tungsten, molybdenum, cobalt and tin were previously mined. Today, only a few granitic uranium deposits are mined in France. Copper, lead, zinc and barium deposits associated with volcanic rocks are mined in the Nordic countries, Cyprus and the Iberian Peninsula. Lead and zinc from sedimentary carbonate rocks are mined in Ireland and the Alps, and copper is mined from black shales in Poland. BIF (banded iron ores), sedimentary manganese deposits and uranium-containing shales are exploited in the Iberian Peninsula, the Nordic countries, Russia and Ukraine. Magmatic deposits with chromium, nickel and copper are mined in the Balkans and in the Nordic countries, Russia and Cyprus. Phosphorineral apatite is mined from magmatic deposits in Finland and Russia. In recent years, Europe has become gold-producing from small deposits in The Nordic countries, France, Spain and Eastern Europe.