Online Encyclopedia

PART V

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 665 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PART V.—GEOTECTONIC OR STRUCTURAL GEOLOGY From a study of the nature and composition of minerals and rocks, and an investigation of the different agencies by which they are formed and modified, the geologist proceeds to inquire how these materials have been put together so as to build up the visible part of the earth's crust. He soon ascertains that they have not been thrown together wholly at random, but that they show a recognizable order of arrangement. Some of them, especially those of most recent growth, remain in their original condition and position, but, in proportion to their antiquity, they generally present increasing alteration, until it may no longer be possible to tell what was their pristine state. As by far the largest accessible portion of the terrestrial crust consists of stratified rocks, and as these furnish clear evidence of most of the modifications to which they have been subjected in the long course of geological history, it is convenient to take them into consideration first. They possess a number of structures which belong to the original conditions in which they were accumulated. They present in addition other structures which have been super-induced upon them, and which they share with the unstratified or igneous rocks. I. ORIGINAL STRUCTURES (a) Stratified Rocks.—This extensive and important series is above all distinguished by possessing a prevailing stratified arrangement. Their materials have been laid down in laminae, layers and strata, or beds, pointing generally to the intermittent deposition of the sediments of which they consist. As this stratification was, as a rule, originally nearly or quite horizontal, it serves as abase from which to measure any subsequent disturbance which the rocks have undergone. The occurrence of false-bedding, i.e. bands of inclined layers between the normal planes of stratification, does not form any real exception; but indicates the action of shifting currents whereby the sediment was transported and thrown down. Other important records of the original conditions of deposit are supplied by ripple-marks, sun-cracks, rain-prints and concretions. From the nature of the material further light is cast on the geographical conditions in which the strata were accumulated. Thus, conglomerates indicate the proximity of old shore-lines, sandstones mark deposits in comparatively shallow. water, clays and shales point to the tranquil accumulation of fine silt at a greater depth and further from land, while fossiliferous limestones bear witness to clearer water in which organisms flourished at some distance from deposits of sand and mud. Again, the alternation of different kinds of sediment suggests a variability in the conditions of deposition, such as a shifting of the sediment-bearing currents and of the areas of muddy and clear water. A thick group of conformable strata, that is, a series of deposits which show no discordance in their stratification, may usually be regarded as having been laid down on a sea-floor that was gently sinking. Here and there evidence is obtainable of the limits or of the progress of the subsidence by what is called " overlap." Of the absolute length of time represented by any strata or groups of strata no satisfactory estimates can yet be formed. Certain general conclusions may indeed be drawn, and comparisons may be made between different series of rocks. Sand-stones full of false-bedding were probably accumulated more rapidly than finely-laminated shales or clays. It is not uncommon in certain Carboniferous formations to find coniferous and other trunks em-bedded in sandstone. Some of these trees seem to have been carried along and to have sunk, their heavier or root end touching the bottom and their upper end slanting upward in the direction of the current, exactly as in the case of the snags of the Mississippi. In other cases the trees have been submerged while still in their positions of growth. The continuous deposit of sand at last rose above the level of the trunks and buried them. It is clear then that the rate of deposit must have been sometimes sufficiently rapid to allow sand to accumulate to a depth of 30 ft. or more before the decay of the wood. Modern instances are known where, under certain circumstances, submerged trees may last for some centuries, but even the most durable must decay in what, after all, is a brief space of geological time. Since continuous layers of the same kind of deposit suggest a persistence of geological conditions, while numerous alternations of different kinds of sedimentary matter point to vicissitudes or alternations of conditions, it may be supposed that the time represented by a given thickness of similar strata was less than that shown by the same thickness of dissimilar strata, because the changes needed to bring new varieties of sediment into the area of deposit would usually require the lapse of some time for their completion. But this conclusion may often be erroneous. It will be best supported when, from the very nature of the rocks, wide variations in the character of the water-bottom can be established. Thus a group of shales followed by a fossiliferous limestone would almost always mark the lapse of a much longer period than an equal depth of sandy strata. A thick mass of limestone, made up of organic remains which lived and died upon the spot, and whose remains are crowded together generation above generation, must have demanded many years or centuries for its formation. But in all speculations of this kind we must bear in mind that the length of time represented by a given depth of strata is not to be estimated merely from their thickness or lithological character: The interval between the deposit of two successive laminae of shale may have been as long as, or even longer than, that required for the formation of one of the laminae. In like manner the interval needed for the transition from one stratum or kind of strata to another may often have been more than equal to the time required for the formation of the strata on either side. But the relative chronological importance of the bars or lines in the geological record can seldom be satisfactorily discussed merely on litho'-ogical grounds. This must mainly be decided on the evidence of organicremains, as shown in Part VI., where the grouping of the stratified rocks into formations and systems is described. (b) Igneous Rocks.—As part of the earth's crust these rocks present characters by which they are strongly differentiated from the stratified series. While the broad petrographical distinctions of their several varieties remain persistent, they present sufficient local variations of type to point to the existence of what have been called petrographic provinces, in each of which the eruptive masses are connected by a general family relationship, differing more or less from that of a neighbouring province. In each region presenting a long chronological series of eruptive rocks a petrographical sequence can be traced, which is observed to be not absolutely the same everywhere, though its general features may be persistent. The earliest manifestations of eruptive material in any district appear to have been most frequently of an intermediate type between acid and basic, passing thence into a thoroughly acid series and concluding with an effusion of basic material. Considered as part of the architecture of the crust of the earth, igneous rocks are conveniently divisible into two great series: (1) those bodies of material which have been injected into the crust and have solidified there, and (2) those which have reached the surface and have been ejected there, either in a molten state as lava or in a fragmental form as dust, ashes and scoriae. The first of these divisions represents the plutonic, intrusive or subsequent phase of eruptivity; the second marks the volcanic, interstratified or contemporaneous phase. t. The plutonic or intrusive rocks, which have been forced into the crust and have consolidated there, present a wide range of texture from the most coarse-grained granites to the most perfect natural glass. Seeing that they have usually cooled with extreme slowness underground, they are as a general rule more largely crystalline than the volcanic series. The form assumed by each individual body of intrusive material has depended upon the shape of the space into which it has been injected, and where it has cooled and become solid. This shape has been determined by the local structure of the earth's crust on the one hand and by the energy of the eruptive force on the other. It offers a convenient basis for the classification of the intrusive rocks, which, as part of the framework of the crust, may thus be grouped according to the shape of the cavity which received them, as bosses, sills, dikes and necks. Bosses, or stocks, are the largest and most shapeless extravasations of erupted material. They include the great bodies of granite which, in most countries of the world, have risen for many miles through the stratified formations and have altered the rocks around them by contact-metamorphism. Sills, or intrusive sheets, are bed-like masses which have been thrust between the planes of sedimentary or even of igneous rocks. The term laccolite has been applied to sills which are connected with bosses. Intrusive sheets are distinguishable from true contemporaneously intercalated lavas by not keeping always to the same platform, but breaking across and altering the contiguous strata, and by the closeness of their texture where they come in contact with the contiguous rocks, which, 'being cold, chilled the molten material and caused it to consolidate on its outer margins more rapidly than in its interior. Dikes or veins are vertical walls or ramifying branches of intrusive material which has consolidated in fissures or irregular clefts of the crust: Necks are volcanic chimneys which have been filled up with erupted material, and have now been exposed at the surface after prolonged denudation has removed not only the superficial volcanic masses originally associated with them, but also more or less of the upper part of the vents. Plutonic rocks do not present evidence of their precise geological age. All that can be certainly affirmed from them is that they must be younger than the rocks into which they have been intruded. From their internal structure, however, and from the evidence of the rocks associated with them, some more or less definite conjectures may be made as to the limits of time within which they were probably injected. 2. The interstratified or volcanic series is of special importance in geology, inasmuch as it contains the records of volcanic action during the past history of the globe. It was pointed out in Part I. that while towards the end of the 18th and in the beginning of the 19th century much attention was paid by Hutton and his followers to the proofs of intrusion afforded by what they called the " unerupted lavas " within the earth's crust, these observers lost sight of the possibility that some of these rocks might have been erupted at the surface, and might thus be chronicles of volcanic action in former geological periods. It is not always possible to satisfactorily discriminate between the two types of contemporaneously intercalated and subsequently injected material. But rocks of the former type have not broken into or involved the overlying strata, and they are usually marked by the characteristic structures of superficial lavas and by their association with volcanic tuffs. By means of the evidence which they supply, it has been ascertained that volcanic action has been manifested in the globe since the earliest geological periods. In the British Isles, for example, the volcanic record is remarkably full for the long series of ages from Cambrian to Permian time, and again for the older Tertiary period. 2. SUBSEQUENTLY INDUCED STRUCTURES After their accumulation, whether as stratified or eruptive masses, all kinds of rocks have been subject to various changes, and have acquired in consequence a variety of superinduced structures. It has been pointed out in the part of this article dealing with dynamical geology that one of the most important forms of energy in the evolution of geological processes is to be found in the movements that take place within the crust of the earth. Some of these movements are so slight as to be only recognizable by means of delicate instruments; but from this inferior limit they range up to gigantic convulsions by which mountain-chains are upheaved. The crust must be regarded as in a perpetual state of strain, and its component materials are therefore subject to all the effects which flow from that condition. It is the one great object of the geotectonic division of geology to study the structures which have been developed in consequence of earth-movements, and to discover from this investigation the nature of the processes whereby the rocks of the crust have been brought into the condition and the positions in which we now find them. The details of this subject will be found in separate articles descriptive of each of the technical terms applied to the several kinds of superinduced structures. All that need be offered here is a general outline connecting the several portions of the subject together. One of the most universal of these later structures is to be seen in the divisional planes, usually vertical or highly inclined, by which rocks are split into quadrangular or irregularly shaped blocks. To these planes the name of joints has been given. They are of prime importance from an industrial point of view, seeing that the art of quarrying consists mainly in detecting and making proper use of them. Their abundance in all kinds of rocks, from those of recent date up to those of the highest antiquity, affords a remarkable testimony to the strains which the terrestrial crust has suffered. They have arisen sometimes from tension, such as that caused by contraction from the drying and consolidation of an aqueous sediment or from the cooling of a molten mass; sometimes from torsion during movements of the crust. Although the stratified rocks were originally deposited in a more or less nearly horizontal position on the floor of the sea, where now visible on the dry land they are seldom found to have retained their flatness. On the contrary, they are seen to have been generally tilted up at various angles, sometimes even placed on end (crop, dip, strike). When a sufficiently large area of ground is examined, the inclination into which the strata have been thrown may be observed not to continue far in the same direction, but to turn over to the opposite or another quarter. It can then be seen that in reality the rocks have been thrown into undulations. From the lowest and flattest arches where the departure from horizontality may be only trifling, every step may be followed up to intense curvature, where the strata have been compressed and plicated as if they had been piles of soft carpets (anticline, syncline, monocline, geo-anticline, geo-syncline, isoclinal, plication, curvature, qua-quaversal). It has further happened abundantly all over the surface of the globe that relief from internal strain in the crust has been obtained by fracture, and the consequent subsidence or elevation of one or both sides of the fissure. The differential movement between the two sides may be scarcely perceptible in the feeblest dislocation, but in the extreme cases it may amount to many thousand feet (fault, fissure, dislocation, hade, slickensides). The great faults in a country are among its most important structural features, and as they not infrequently continue to be lines of weakness in the crust along which sudden slipping may from time to time take place, they become the lines of origin of earthquakes. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906, already cited, affords a memorable illustration of this connexion. It is in a great mountain-chain that the extraordinary complication of plicated and faulted structures in the crust of the earth can be most impressively beheld. The combination of overturned folds' with rupture has been already referred to as a characteristic feature in the Alps (Part IV.). The gigantic folds have in many places been pushed over each other so as to lie almost flat, while the upper limb has not infrequently been driven for many miles beyond the lower by a rupture along the axis. In this way successive slices of a thick series of formations have been carried northwards on the northern slope of the Alps, and. have been piled so abnormally above each other that 'some of their oldest members recur several times on different thrust-planes, the whole being underlain by Tertiarystrata (see ALPS). Further proof of the colossal compression to which the rocks have been subjected is afforded by their intense crumpling and corrugation, and by the abundantly faulted and crushed condition to which they have been reduced. Similar evidence as to stresses in the terrestrial crust and the important changes which they produce among the rocks may also be obtained on a smaller scale in many non-mountainous countries. Another marked result of the compression of the terrestrial crust has been induced in some rocks by the production of the fissile structure which is typically shown in roofing-slate (cleavage). Closely connected with this internal rearrangement has been the development of microscopic microlites or crystals (rutile, mica, &c.) in argillaceous slates which were undoubtedly originally fine marine mud and silt. From this incipient form of metamorphism successive' stages may be traced through the various kinds of argillite and phyllite into mica-schist, and thence into more crystalline gneissoid varieties (foliation, slate, mica-schist, gneiss). The Alps afford excellent illustrations of these transformations. The fissures produced in the crust are sometimes clean, sharpy defined divisional planes, like cracks across a pane of glass. Much more usually, however, the rocks on either side have been broken up by the friction of movement, and the fault is marked by a variable breadth of this broken material. Sometimes the walls have separated and molten rock has risen from below and solidified between them as a dike. Occasionally the fissures have opened to the surface, and have been filled in from above with detritus, as in the sandstone-dikes of Colorado and California. In mineral districts the fissures have been filled with various spars and ores, forming what are known as mineral veins. Where one series of rocks is covered by another without any break or discordance in the stratification they are said to be con-formable. But where the older series has been tilted up or visibly denuded before being overlain by the younger, the latter is termed unconformable. This relation is one of the greatest value in structural geology, for it marks a gap in the geological record, which may represent a vast lapse of time not there recorded by strata.
End of Article: PART V
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