Geologic History of the Catskills
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Geologic History of the Catskills

This is a brief description of the geologic history of the Catskill Mountains in New York State. This article also includes a brief description of the geologic history of the Appalachians.

Guess what, the Catskills are only 13 million years old and as we see them they are less then 12,000 years old. What is true for the Catskills is also true for most of the Appalachians and especially true for the northern Appalachians. This flies in the face of reason because the rocks exposed in the Catskills are around 400 million years old. In other places in the Appalachians some of the rocks exposed are over a billion years old. What you are really looking at are new mountains made from old rocks.

There are four orogenic events that have affected the Appalachians, and in their turn each of these events has produced deltas of sedimentary rock that has flowed out from the flanks of the resulting mountains wearing them down to what are termed “peneplains” by geologists. A peneplain is when due to the processes of erosion the mountains raised by orogenic processes are completely worn down to a flat featureless plain. A modern equivalent may be seen in an area of eastern Wyoming known as the “Planks.”

It was the Acadian orogeny’s mountains that supplied to eroded sediments that compose the Catskills that are composed of red sandstone and conglomerates. They are identical rocks of the same age that crop out in Scotland that are known as “the old red sandstone.” This proves that North America was once attached to Europe and specifically Scotland.

From the erosion products over the Devonian mountain building episode called the Acadian orogeny sediments washed off the mountains to the west for being a fast delta that is known to geologists as the Catskills delta that can be traced all the way from the Catskill Mountains to across the Mississippi River. It is remnants of this delta that we observe today as the Catskill Mountains.

13 million years ago the whole East Coast of the United States had been worn down to a peneplain that might even have been covered by the ocean. Then the whole East Coast started arching up to create the mountains that we see now. However, they are not really mountains what we are actually looking at is a dissected peneplain. This was caused by stream erosion where the stream stayed in the same place, but a road in their way through the rock while trying to reach their lowest level of energy. These are the mountains that we see not only in the Catskills racing majestically above the Hudson River, but throughout the Appalachians. Truly these are new mountains from old stones.

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Comments (2)

Fascinating geological information. I would love to visit the Catskills and Appalachians.

Good stuff!

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