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USGS Geology in the Parks

Geologic story of the North Cascades button

North Cascades National Park:
An Early Geologist and Early Ideas

Peter Misch
Peter Misch

Peter Misch, a professor of geology at the University of Washington, made the first real geologic map of part of the North Cascades. Misch was born in Germany, learned geology in the Alps and in the Pyrenees, and had geologized in the northwest Himalaya. When the Nazis took over, he fled to China to teach and study the rocks of Yunan before coming to the U.S. at the end of the Second World War. He began his study of the North Cascades in 1948 and, being an avid hiker and mountain climber, reached many remote areas in the North Cascades never before visited by geologists.

Peter Misch thought the North Cascades had this structure
Diagramatic cross-section showing structure in a double-sided folded and faulted mountain range. Peter Misch thought the North Cascades had this structure, but the picture is more complicated.

Peter Misch was quick to apply ideas of European alpine geology to the rocks of the North Cascades. He viewed the range as a symmetrical up-folded welt of metamorphosed rocks, thrust out east and west over less deformed and metamorphosed strata. This view has been considerably modified by more recent work, but many of his original observations have proven remarkably correct.

The work of Misch and his many students established a framework upon which all subsequent studies have been built. They first recognized that the North Cascades consisted of three wide belts of rocks, trending north-south, that revealed very different geologic histories. In this website, we refer to these belts as domains.

When Misch and his students assembled the first geologic maps of the North Cascades, they did not imagine that the groups of rocks (the "tectonic terranes" discussed in this site) that they had mapped may have traveled great distances before they were assembled where they are today.
Misch constructed a geologic history that assumed that the North Cascades pretty much formed in place, where they are now. Oceans were filled with sediment and volcanic rock that both eventually became metamorphosed. New oceans formed and younger rocks were deposited. Everything more or less happened where the rocks are today. Now we tend to view the geologic scene with the great mobility of the Earth’s crust in mind. Geologic terranes may have come from great distances, hundreds to thousands of miles, before they were assembled where they are today. Ironically, Peter Misch was thought to be a radical mobilist in his day because he proposed that some rock units in the North Cascades had been thrust over each other for tens of miles!

Material in this site has been adapted from a book, Geology of the North Cascades: A Mountain Mosaic by R. Tabor and R. Haugerud, of the USGS, with drawings by Anne Crowder. It is published by The Mountaineers, Seattle.

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