Earliest Origins of Florida

Throughout most of its history Florida has been under water. This was true even in earliest times, when the "basement" of the Florida platform was part of the continental shelf of Gondwanaland, the supercontinent which later divided into Africa and South America. Although there is some evidence that Florida separated from Gondwanaland about 300 million years ago, it eventually found itself wedged between that continent and North America when these combined to form the supercontinent Pangea (about 290-280 million years ago). When continents drift together the result is usually mountain formation, and this is the only period when Florida had any. When Pangea began to break up (about 220-210 million years ago), Florida remained behind with North America. The mountains had mostly eroded away by this time, and the Florida platform slipped slowly beneath the waves to become part of North America's continental shelf.


The next 170 million years saw the gradual accumulation of "carbonate" deposits, chiefly limestone. Coral, shellfish, and fish skeletons steadily piled up, creating a layer of limestone hundreds (in some places thousands) of feet thick. Around 35-30 million years ago, there occurred a not-well-understood secondary uplifting of the Appalachians (which had been originally formed many tens of millions of years prior to this), resulting in an accelerated erosion of the mountains and deposition of "clastic" (sand and clay) sediments over the Florida platform. When sea levels fell a few million years later, Florida finally emerged from the sea as part of the North American mainland.


Being essentially a landform of relatively thin sand and clay sediments overlaying much thicker layer of limestone, the geology of Florida is largely determined by the characteristics of this mineral. Being fairly porous, most of the limestone bedrock of the state is saturated with water, which gradually dissolves the rock and forms cracks and passages. Indeed, the bedrock of the state is literally honeycombed with underground rivers. Many of these form interwoven systems known as aquifers, the best known of which is the Floridan Aquifer. Where the underground rivers break the surface springs and sinkholes are found, and Florida has thousands of these. In fact, the eastern panhandle down through the central peninsula has more springs than any other comparably sized region in the world, with 27 first-magnitude springs (more than 100 cubic feet of water per second), one of which - Spring Creek Springs - is the most powerful in the world, discharging 2,003 cubic feet of water per second. Many of the larger springs are open to the public, providing numerous locations where one can view this aspect of Florida geology.

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