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The Face of the Earth: The Continents. Source: 7 contents and 5 oceans name list of the world.

The Face of the Earth: The Continents

Major Features of the Continents

The major features of the continents can be grouped into two distinct categories: uplifted regions of deformed rocks that make up present-day mountain belts and extensive flat, stable areas that have been eroded nearly to sea level. The young mountain belts tend to be long, narrow features at the margins of continents and that the flat, stable areas are typically located in the interiors of the continents.

Mountain Belts 

The most prominent continental features are mountains. Although their distribution appears to be random, this is not the case. The youngest mountains (those less than 100 million years old) are located principally in two major zones. The circum-Pacific belt (the region surrounding the Pacific Ocean) includes the mountains of the western Americas and continues into the western Pacific in the form of volcanic island arcs. Island arcs are active mountainous regions composed largely of volcanic rocks and deformed sedimentary rocks. Examples include the Aleutian Islands, Japan, the Philippines, and New Guinea.

The continents distribution of mountain belts, stable platforms, and shields. Source:

The other major mountain belt extends eastward from the Alps through Iran and the Himalayas and then dips southward into Indonesia. Careful examination of mountainous terrains reveals that most are places where thick sequences of rocks have been squeezed and highly deformed as if placed in a gigantic vise. Older mountains are also found on the continents. Examples include the Appalachians in the eastern United States and the Urals in Russia. Their once lofty peaks are now worn low, the result of millions of years of weathering and erosion.

The Stable Interior

Unlike the young mountain belts that have formed within the past 100 million years, the interiors of the continents, called cratons, have been relatively stable (undisturbed) for the past 600 million years or even longer. Typically these regions were involved in mountain-building episodes much earlier in Earth’s history. Within the stable interiors are areas known as shields—expansive, flat regions composed largely of deformed igneous and metamorphic rocks. The Canadian Shield is exposed in much of the northeastern part of North America. Radiometric dating of shields indicates that they are truly ancient regions. All contain Precambrian-age rocks more than 1 billion years old, with some samples approaching 4 billion years in age. Even these oldest-known rocks exhibit evidence of enormous forces that have folded, faulted, and metamorphosed them.

Thus, we conclude that these rocks were once part of an ancient mountain system that has since been eroded away to produce these expansive, flat regions. Other flat areas of the craton exist, where highly deformed rocks, like those found in the shields, are covered by a relatively thin veneer of sedimentary rocks. These areas are called stable platforms. The sedimentary rocks in stable platforms are nearly horizontal, except where they have been warped to form large basins or domes. In North America a major portion of the stable platform is located between the Canadian Shield and the Rocky Mountains.


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