What is the Canadian Shield? - Definition, Location & Formation

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  • 0:04 What Is the Canadian Shield?
  • 1:18 Location
  • 1:53 Composition
  • 3:06 Formation
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Half of Canada is covered by an enormous plate of very old stone. In this lesson, we'll discuss the Canadian shield - what it is, where it's found, and how it was formed.

What Is the Canadian Shield?

What holds up the continents? The answer is a craton, a stable piece of the earth's crust that floats around on a sea of magma (or liquid rock) and supports continents, islands, and sea beds.

The North American craton is made of hard rock and rests under most of North America. It extends from Mexico to Greenland, holding up much of Mexico, the United States, and Canada.

The Canadian shield is the exposed part of the North American craton, one section of the earth's floating crust. Shaped somewhat like a horseshoe, or like the shields that ancient warriors used to carry into battle, the Canadian shield occupies roughly half of Canada. It is made up of what geologists consider to be some of the oldest rocks to be found on Earth, some dating almost as far back as the original formation of our planet.

The Canadian shield occupies the part of the North American craton that's on the eastern side of Canada. Unlike the rest of the craton, the Shield is nearly bare, with only a thin blanket of earth covering its surface. This makes the area much less useful for some activities, such as farming and manufacturing, and more useful for other activities, such as mining, logging, and hydroelectric power generation.

Location

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As the picture shows and name implies, the Canadian shield is mostly in Canada. From the Labrador coast on the east, the shield covers most of Quebec and extends into Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Arctic Archipelago. In the United States, the same shield touches Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin. The Canadian Shield is divided into the Bear, Churchill, Grenville, Nain, Slave, Southern, and Superior provinces (different geological regions), each of which has its own special characteristics and minerals.

Composition

The earth's crust is made up of thin plates of hardened rock that float around on the liquid rock mantle underneath. The highest points on these floating pieces become continents and islands, while the lowest points remain covered with oceans and other bodies of water. They are kind of like a huge spherical jigsaw puzzle floating on a bubble of liquid. These pieces are enormous, so when they bump together, mountain ranges form, edges fuse, land surfaces change, and things get rearranged.

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