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The geological evolution of Avalonia was fundamental to the first application of plate tectonic principles to the pre-Mesozoic world. Four tectonic phases have now been identified. The oldest phase (760–660 Ma) produced a series of oceanic arcs, some possibly underlain by thin slivers of Baltica crust, which accreted to the northern margin of Gondwana between 670 and 650 Ma. Their accretion to Gondwana may be geodynamically related to the break-up of Rodinia. After accretion, subduction zones stepped outboard, producing the main phase (640–570 Ma) of arc-related magmatism and basin formation that was coeval with the amalgamation of Gondwana. Arc magmatism terminated diachronously between 600 and 540 Ma by the propagation of a San Andreas style transform fault, followed by the Early Paleozoic platformal succession used by Wilson to define the eastern flank of the proto-Atlantic (Iapetus) Ocean. This implies the ocean outboard from the northern Gondwanan margin survived into the Cambrian. Avalonia is one of several terranes distributed obliquely with respect to the adjacent cratonic provinces of Gondwana and Baltica, implying that these terranes evolved on different cratonic basements. As a result, their ages and differing isotopic signatures can be used to reconstruct their respective locations along the ancient continental margin.

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