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Why our region's topography is so varied - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Why our region's topography is so varied

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CHARLOTTE, Vt. -

Larry Becker has been a geologist for 30 years.

"I was very intrigued when I first started learning about it. All of the pieces and the history that went into kind of seeing what we see today," said Becker, the Vermont state geologist.

Becker knows a lot about local topography, something that many of us enjoy from day to day.

"Unbelievable here because you can look all the way down to Killington and some of the highest mountains in Vermont, then right across the way Lake Champlain," said Drew Canning of Saranac, N.Y.

Vermont is famous for its Green Mountains. They're about 450 million years old.

"The Green Mountains were formed during the whole idea of plate tectonics, where the whole idea is that the Earth is broken into jigsaw pieces of plates that slide into each other," Becker said.

On the other hand, our neighbors in New Hampshire enjoy the White Mountains. They're taller and younger.

"They're probably 200 or 150 million years old. More molten material coming from below," Becker said.

This molten material forced the White Mountains way up, so high that some peaks never got covered by glaciers thousands of years ago.

"If you go into the White Mountains, particularly the Presidentials, there were sections that were above this. They were like islands in a sea of ice," Becker explained.

This means that when the glaciers receded, the highest peaks of the White Mountains were able to maintain their more jagged look.

Moving west, the Adirondacks are, get this, more than 1 billion years old!

"A quarter of the Earth's history is visible from where we are right now," Becker said. "They've been compressed and much older plate tectonics collisions, so the Adirondacks were a very high mountain range 1 billion years ago."

Erosion has played a role through the centuries, but interestingly enough, earthquake activity tells us that they are slowly rising today.

While our mountains are most visually impressive, there are also extensive valleys.

"There's a line with little hatch marks in it, and that line represents the Champlain Thrust," Becker said.

This feature runs through western Vermont, then northeast into southern Quebec. And just west of this lies flat land.

"Out to the west of it are shales and shales are very breakable, so they've eroded over time, they've helped erode a valley," Becker said.

The valley was then smoothed out when sediment from ancient lakes filled in the gaps on the earth-- Areas from Franklin County through Southern Quebec are particularly flat.

Whether you like the valley, the mountains or all of the above, Becker knows one thing: "I enjoy it a lot. I find that geologists enjoy their work and Vermont is a great place to be a geologist."

And it's also a place where the views never disappoint.

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