Simple map showing the main physiographic regions of the western United States.

Earth Science of the Western United States

The place where you are right now has a rich geological history that is recorded by the rocks beneath you and the fossils that they may contain. The rocks and fossils reveal the movements of continents and the evolution of new forms of life. This history helps to explain why the Earth looks like it does today. It also explains things like the distributions of natural resources, from rare minerals to rich soils for agriculture. Studying Earth's ancient climate also helps us to make sense of how the climate is changing today and how it will affect us where we live.

The goal of this part of the [email protected] project is to explain the Earth science of the western United States, which is defined here to include Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Major regions include the Basin and Range, Columbia Plateau, Northern Rocky Mountains, Cascade-Sierra Mountains, Pacific Border, and Alaska.

Contents


Overviews of Western U.S. Earth Science


Simple map showing the main physiographic regions of the western United States.
Geologic History
Glaciers
Climate
Earth Hazards

Basin and Range Region

Nevada, eastern California, and southern Oregon.


Simple map identifying the Basin and Range physiographic region of the western United States.
Rocks
Fossils
Topography
Energy
Mineral Resources

Columbia Plateau Region

Eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington.


Simple map identifying the Columbia Plateau physiographic region of the western United States.
Rocks
Fossils
Topography
Energy
Mineral Resources

Rocky Mountain Region

Northeastern Washington.


Simple map identifying the Rocky Mountains physiographic region of the western United States.
Rocks
Fossils
Topography
Energy
Mineral Resources

Cascade-Sierra Mountain Region

Eastern California and central Oregon and Washington.


Simple map identifying the Cascade and Sierra Mountains physiographic region of the western United States.
Rocks
Fossils
Topography
Energy
Mineral Resources

Pacific Border Region

The western regions of California, Oregon, and Washington.


Simple map identifying the Pacific Border physiographic region of the western United States.
Rocks
Fossils
Topography
Energy
Mineral Resources

Alaska

Alaska.


Simple map of Alaska.
Rocks
Fossils
Topography
Energy
Mineral Resources
Climate

Geologic Maps, Topographic Maps, and Earth Science Quick Facts

Simple geologic and topographic maps of each state in the western United States, along with quick facts about official state fossils, rocks, minerals, gems, points of highest and lowest elevation, and lists of places to visit.


Alaska
California
Nevada
Oregon
Washington

Resources

Lists of supplemental and teaching resources for the Earth science of the western U.S., sorted by topic.


Resources

Credits

Most of the [email protected] content in the Here on Earth: Western United States section is derived from The Teacher-Friendly Guide to the Geology of the Western USedited by Mark D. Lucas, Robert M. Ross, and Andrielle N. Swaby (published in 2014 by the Paleontological Research Institution; currently out of print). The citation for the original book is:

  • Lucas, M. D., R. M. Ross, and A. N. Swaby (eds.). 2014. The Teacher-Friendly Guide to the Earth Science of the Western US. Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, New York, 424 pp.

The book was adapted for the web by Elizabeth J. Hermsen and Jonathan R. Hendricks in 2022. Changes include formatting and revisions to the text and images.

Authors for the original chapters adapted for the Western U.S. section of Here on Earth are as follows. Some of the content has been spread over multiple pages on this website, so links are not provided below:

  • Chapter 1. Geologic history of the Western US: Frank D. Granshaw, Alexandra Moore, and Gary Lewis.
  • Chapter 2. Rocks of the Western US: Wendy E. Van Norden, Alexandra Moore, and Gary Lewis.
  • Chapter 3. Fossils of the Western US: Brendan M. Anderson, Alexandra Moore, Gary Lewis, and Warren D. Allmon.
  • Chapter 4. Topography of the Western US: Judith T. Parrish, Alexandra Moore, Louis A. Derry, and Gary Lewis.
  • Chapter 5. Mineral Resources of the Western US: David Gillam, Alexandra Moore, and Gary Lewis.
  • Chapter 6. Glaciers in the Western US: Frank D. Granshaw.
  • Chapter 7. Energy in the Western US: Carlyn S. Buckler and Gary Lewis.
  • Chapter 8. Soils of the Western US: Luke McCann, Alexandra Moore, Alex F. Wall, Gary Lewis, and Judith T. Parrish.
  • Chapter 9. Climate of the Western US: Ingrid H. H. Zabel, Judith T. Parrish, Alexandra Moore, and Gary Lewis.
  • Chapter 10. Earth Hazards of the Western US: Wendy E. Van Norden, Alexandra Moore, and Gary Lewis.