Posted by: Alan Pitts | April 26, 2011

Provolone Rift Basin

Lately it has become a habit of mine every time I make a sandwich to play a little game trying to make a rift zone in my provolone cheese.  This is not just an effort to down-size my slice by 50 % or to finally answer the age-old elementary-school-bus question “who rift the cheese ?”  This is about science.

Here is stage 1 in the rifting of my cheese slice:

In stage 1 the cheese is being extended horizontally.  The initial response was elastic as I could feel the cheese stretch and change shape under my thumbs.  However the cheese could only stand so much stress, and eventually a linear gash formed vertically (perpendicular to the direction of stretching)  in the center of the slice.

In stage 2 as the extension continued more rifts opened across the surface of the cheese with a similar orientation.  Some of these rifts formed inline with the original and another formed sub parallel.

In stage 3 the two rifts inline with each other met and propagated across the cheese. I tore some of the material from the top and the bottom of the rift to get a more blocky / less pacman shape.   By stage 3 the cheese has been completely torn in half and is now two separate bodies.  The newly formed piece to the left still bares the scars of the violent episode as “failed rifts” since they are no longer active spreading zones and did not  achieve their full potential in becoming the place where 1 cheese slice became 2.

So where is this all going? ( Besides in my belly) I created this (dare I say) cheesy experiment as a rudimentary analogy to the break up of Pangaea as Africa broke off from North America during the Triassic/Jurassic period and creation of the Culpeper Basin.  During this rifting period crustal thinning would have ripped the earth in several linear rifting zones much like the rifting of my cheese during stage 2.  Eventually one these rifting zones “out rifted” the others and became the early phases of the Atlantic Ocean.

What we are left with as evidence is a series of elongate “failed rift” basins running all along the East Coast of the United States, the Newark Super group as they are called.

Here is an image of the Newark Supergroup along the eastern US by P.E Olson, which I found at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s research and collections:

The dark areas on the map are the remnant basins and look a lot like the failed rift basin I made in the North American Section of my cheese.  The Culpeper, Gettysburg and Newark basins in image above all link up, sort of like the way the rifts did in stage 2 or my cheese-rifting.  The Culpeper Basin is a section of the Newark Super group very close to my home where I have spent a lot of time.

I’m using this analogy as a launch pad into a series of Culpeper Basin related posts.  But now I’m going to hurry and eat my science experiment before my rift basin spreads any further to become a full blown oceanic basin, nobody likes a soggy sandwich.



  1. GMU offers free student mental health services…

  2. Alan, A very humerous post about the Provolone Rift Basin. A good sense of humor is very important and your writing skills are really good and improving.
    I look forward to reading more of your work both serious and humerous.

    Uncle Ray

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