The Great Basin Seafloor

Exploring the Ancient Oceans of the Desert West

Many people appreciate the stunning vistas of the Great Basin desert; understanding the region’s geological past can provide a deeper way to know and admire this landscape. In The Great Basin Seafloor, Frank DeCourten immerses readers in a time when the Basin was covered by a vast ocean in which volcanoes exploded and sea life flourished.

Written for a nontechnical audience, this book interprets the rock record left by more than 500 million years of oceanic activity, when mud and sand accumulated and solidified to produce today’s Great Basin across parts of modern Utah, Nevada, and California. DeCourten deciphers clues within exposed slopes and canyons to reconstruct the vanished seafloor and its volcanic events and examines fossils to reveal once-thriving ancient marine communities. Supplemental material is available online to serve as a field guide for readers wishing to explore this ancient ocean themselves as they travel through the region.

Frank DeCourten is a field geologist and researcher who has designed and led geological excursions and symposia for numerous scientific and natural history organizations, including the National Park Service and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Prior to his retirement in 2018, he was professor of earth science at Sierra College in California and previously served as museum curator and assistant director of the Utah Museum of Natural History. His books include Dinosaurs of Utah, The Broken Land, and The Roadside Geology of Nevada. 

Table of Contents:


List of Figures
1. Vanished Oceans of the Great Basin Desert 
2. The Ocean Arrives
3. The Great Cambrian Explosion
4. The Ordovician Overhaul
5. The Dolomite Interval: A Carbonate Conundrum
6. The Devonian-Mississippian Interval: Tectonic Tumult and Cosmic Calamities
7. The Antler Overlap Sequence
8. The Last Gasp of the Great Basin Seafloor: The Oceans of the West in the Age of Reptiles

Praise and Reviews:

“This work is the most thorough and up-to-date treatment of the sedimentary rocks and associated geological events in the Great Basin published since DeCourten’s previous book, The Broken Land. The book will be useful to general readers interested in western U.S. geology and natural history, as well as to outdoor enthusiasts who explore the mountains and valleys of the region.”
—William Parry, professor emeritus of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah 

"Frank DeCourten leads us on a highly readable, engaging, and insightful geological and paleontological grand tour of major events and processes on Earth throughout Proterozoic and Paleozoic time, with a focus on the fossils and strata of the Great Basin."
—Stephen M. Rowland, professor emeritus of Geology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas