Carbonate Petrography

Carbonate petrography is the study of limestones, dolomites and associated deposits under optical or electron microscopes greatly enhances field studies or core observations and can provide a frame of reference for geochemical studies.

25 strangest Geologic Formations on Earth

The strangest formations on Earth.

What causes Earthquake?

Of these various reasons, faulting related to plate movements is by far the most significant. In other words, most earthquakes are due to slip on faults.

The Geologic Column

As stated earlier, no one locality on Earth provides a complete record of our planet’s history, because stratigraphic columns can contain unconformities. But by correlating rocks from locality to locality at millions of places around the world, geologists have pieced together a composite stratigraphic column, called the geologic column, that represents the entirety of Earth history.

Folds and Foliations

Geometry of Folds Imagine a carpet lying flat on the floor. Push on one end of the carpet, and it will wrinkle or contort into a series of wavelike curves. Stresses developed during mountain building can similarly warp or bend bedding and foliation (or other planar features) in rock. The result a curve in the shape of a rock layer is called a fold.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Consequences of Continental Glaciation

Consequences of Continental Glaciation

Ice Loading and Glacial Rebound 

The concept of subsidence and rebound, due to continental glaciation and deglaciation. (Not to scale.)
When a large ice sheet (more than 50 km in diameter) grows on a continent, its weight causes the surface of the lithosphere to sink. In other words, ice loading causes glacial subsidence. Lithosphere, the relatively rigid outer shell of the Earth, can sink because the underlying asthenosphere is soft enough to flow slowly out of the way (figure above). Because of ice loading, much of Antarctica and Greenland now lie below sea level, so if their ice were instantly to melt away, these continents would be flooded by a shallow sea.
What happens when continental ice sheets do melt away? Gradually, the surface of the underlying continent rises back up, by a process called glacial rebound, and the asthenosphere flows back underneath to fill the space. This process doesn't take place instantly, the asthenosphere flows so slowly (at rates of a few millimetres per year) that it takes thousands of years for ice-depressed continents to rebound. Thus, glacial rebound is still taking place in some regions that were covered by ice during the Pleistocene Ice Age.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Deposition Associated with Glaciation

Deposition Associated with Glaciation 

The Glacial Conveyor 

The glacial conveyor and the formation of lateral and medial moraines on glaciers.
Glaciers can carry sediment of any size and, like a conveyor belt, transport it in the direction of flow (that is, toward the toe;  figure above a). The sediment load either falls onto the surface of the glacier from bordering cliffs or gets plucked and lifted from the substrate and incorporated into the moving ice. Geologists refer to a pile of debris carried by or left by glaciers as a moraine. Sediment dropped on the glacier’s surface moves with the ice and becomes a stripe of debris. Stripes formed along the side edges of the glacier are lateral moraines. When a glacier melts, lateral moraines lie stranded along the side of the glacially carved valley, like bathtub rings. Where two valley glaciers merge, the debris constituting two lateral moraines merges to become a medial moraine, running as a stripe down the interior of the composite glacier (figure above b). Trunk glaciers created by the merging of many tributary glaciers contain several medial moraines. Sediment transported to a glacier’s toe by the glacial conveyor accumulates in a pile at the toe and builds up to form an end moraine.

Carving and Carrying by Ice

Carving and Carrying by Ice

Glacial Erosion and Its Products 

Products of glacial erosion. Ice is a very aggressive agent of erosion.
During the last ice age, valley glaciers cut deep, steep-sided valleys into the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. In the process, some granite domes were cut in half, leaving a rounded surface on one side and a steep cliff on the other. Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park, formed in this way (figure above a); its steep cliff has challenged many rock climbers. Such glacial erosion also produces the knife-edge ridges and pointed spires of high mountains (figure above b) and broad expanses where rock outcrops have been stripped of overlying sediment and polished smooth (figure above c). In many localities, the rock surface visible today is the same rock surface once in contact with ice. In some places, subsequent rockfalls and river erosion have substantially modified the surface.
As glaciers flow, clasts embedded in the ice act like the teeth of a giant rasp and grind away the substrate. This process, glacial abrasion, produces long gouges, grooves, or scratches called glacial striations (figure above d). Striations range from 1 cm to 1 m across and may be tens of centimeters to tens of meters long. As you might expect, striations run parallel to the flow direction of the ice. Rasping by embedded sand yields shiny glacially polished surfaces. 
Glaciers pick up fragments of their substrate in several ways. During glacial incorporation, ice surrounds debris so the debris starts to move with the ice. During glacial plucking (or glacial quarrying), a glacier breaks off fragments of bedrock. Plucking occurs when ice freezes around rock that has just started to separate from its substrate, so that movement of the ice can lift off pieces of the rock. At the toe of a glacier, ice may actually bulldoze sediment and trees slightly before flowing over them. 

Landscape features formed by the glacial erosion of a mountains landscape.
Let’s now look more closely at the erosional features associated with a mountain glacier (figure above a). Freezing and thawing during the fall and spring help fracture the rock bordering the head of the glacier (the ice edge high in the mountains). This rock falls on the ice or gets picked up at the base of the ice, and moves downslope with the glacier. As a consequence, a bowl-shaped depression, or cirque, develops on the side of the mountain. If the ice later melts, a lake called a tarn may form at the base of the cirque. The shape of a cirque may be maintained or even amplified by rockfalls after the glacier is gone. An arête (French for ridge), a residual knife-edge ridge of rock, separates two adjacent cirques. A pointed mountain peak surrounded by at least three cirques is called a horn. The Matterhorn, a peak in Switzerland, is a particularly beautiful example of a horn; each of its four faces is a cirque (figure above b).
Glacial erosion severely modifies the shape of a valley. To see how, compare a river-eroded valley with a glacially eroded valley. If you look along the length of a river in unglaciated mountains, you’ll see that it typically flows down a V-shaped valley, with the river channel forming the point of the V. The V develops because river erosion occurs only in the channel, and mass wasting causes the valley slopes to approach the angle of repose. But if you look down the length of a glacially eroded valley, you’ll see that it resembles a U, with steep walls. A U-shaped valley (figure above c) forms because the combined processes of glacial abrasion and plucking not only lower the floor of the valley but also bevel its sides.
Glacial erosion in mountains also modifies the intersections between tributaries and the trunk valley. In a river system, the trunk stream serves as the local base level for tributaries, so the mouths of the tributary valleys lie at the same elevation as the trunk valley. The ridges (spurs) between valleys taper to a point when they join the trunk valley floor. During glaciation, tributary glaciers flow down side valleys into a trunk glacier. But the trunk glacier cuts the floor of its valley down to a depth that far exceeds the depth cut by the tributary glaciers. Thus, when the glaciers melt away, the mouths of the tributary valleys perch at a higher elevation than the floor of the trunk valley. Such side valleys are called hanging valleys. The water in a post-glacial stream that flows down a hanging valley  cascades over a spectacular waterfall to reach the post-glacial trunk stream (figure above d). As they erode, trunk glaciers also chop off the ends of spurs (ridges) between valleys, to produce truncated spurs.

A roche moutonnée is an asymmetric bedrock hill shaped by the flow of glacial ice.
Now let’s look at the erosional features produced by continental ice sheets. To a large extent, these depend on the nature of the pre-glacial landscape. Where an ice sheet spreads over a region of low relief, such as the Canadian Shield, glacial erosion creates a vast region of polished, flat, striated surfaces. Where an ice sheet  spreads over a hilly area, it deepens valleys and smooths hills. Glacially eroded hills may end up being elongate in the direction of flow and may be asymmetric, for glacial rasping smoothes and bevels the upstream part of the hill, creating a gentle slope, whereas glacial plucking eats away at the downstream part, making a steep slope. Ultimately, the hill’s profile may resemble that of a sheep lying in a meadow such a hill is called a roche moutonnée, from the French for sheep rock (figure above a, b).

Fjords: Submerged Glacial Valleys 

One of the many spectacular fjords of Norway. The water is an arm of the sea that fills a glacially carved valley. Tourists are standing on Pulpit Rock (Prekestolen).
As noted earlier, where a valley glacier meets the sea, the glacier’s base remains in contact with the ground until the water depth exceeds about four-fifths of the glacier’s thickness, at which point the glacier floats. Thus, glaciers can carve U-shaped valleys even below sea level. In addition, during an ice age, water extracted from the sea becomes locked in the ice sheets on land, so sea level drops significantly. Therefore, the floors of valleys cut by coastal glaciers during the Pleistocene Ice Age were cut much deeper than present sea level. Today, the sea has flooded these deep valleys, producing fjords. In the spectacular fjord-land regions along the coasts of Norway, New Zealand, Chile, and Alaska, the walls of submerged U-shaped valleys rise straight from the sea as vertical cliffs up to 1,000 m high (figure above). Fjords also develop where an inland glacial valley fills to become a lake.
Credits: Stephen Marshak (Essentials of Geology)

Ice and the Nature of Glaciers

Ice and the Nature of Glaciers 

What Is Ice? 

The nature of ice and the formation of glaciers. Snow falls like sediment and metamorphoses to ice when buried.
Ice consists of solid water, formed when liquid water cools below its freezing point. We can apply concepts introduced in our earlier discussions of rocks and minerals to distinguish among various occurrences of ice. For example, we can think of a single ice crystal as a mineral specimen, for it is a naturally occurring, inorganic solid, with a definite chemical composition (H2O) and a regular crystal structure. Ice crystals have a hexagonal form, so snowflakes grow into six-pointed stars (figure above a). We can picture a layer of fresh snow as a layer of sediment, and a layer of snow that has been compacted so that the grains stick together as a layer of sedimentary rock (figure above b). We can also think of the ice that appears on the surface of a pond as an igneous rock, for it forms when molten ice (liquid water) solidifies. Glacial ice, in effect, is a metamorphic rock. It develops when pre-existing ice recrystallizes in the solid state, meaning that the molecules in solid water rearrange to form new crystals (figure above c).

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Vanishing Rivers

Vanishing Rivers 

As Homo sapiens evolved from hunter-gatherers into farmers, areas along rivers became attractive places to settle. Rivers serve as avenues for transportation and are sources of food, irrigation water, drinking water, power, recreation, and (unfortunately) waste disposal. Further, their floodplains provide particularly fertile soil for fields, replenished annually by seasonal floods. Considering the multitudinous resources that rivers provide, it’s no coincidence that ancient cultures developed in river valleys and on floodplains. Nevertheless, over time, humans have increasingly tended to abuse or overuse the Earth’s rivers. Here we note four pressing environmental issues pertaining to rivers.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Energy Choices, Energy Problems

Energy Choices, Energy Problems 

The Age of Oil and the Oil Crunch 

World energy use, cost and reserves.
Energy usage in industrialized countries grew with dizzying speed through the mid-20th century, and during this time people came to rely increasingly on oil. Eventually, oil supplies within the borders of industrialized countries could no longer match the demand, and these countries began to import more oil than they produced themselves. Through the 1960s, oil prices remained low (about $1.80 a barrel), so this was not a problem. In 1973, however, a complex tangle of politics and war led the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to limit its oil exports. In the United States, fear of an oil shortage turned to panic, and motorists began lining up at gas stations, in many cases waiting for hours to fill their tanks. The price of oil rose to $18 a barrel, and newspaper headlines proclaimed, “Energy Crisis!” Governments in industrialized countries instituted new rules to encourage oil conservation. During the last two decades of the twentieth century, the oil market stabilized. Since 2004, oil prices rose overall, passing the $147/bbl mark in 2008; but the price collapsed in late 2008 when the Great  Recession hit. More recently, the price has hovered around $100/bbl (figure above a). Will a day come when shortages arise not because of politics or limitations on refining capacity, but because there is no more oil to produce? As highly populous countries such as China and India industrialize, the use of fuels accelerates. To understand the issues involved in predicting the future of energy supplies, we must first classify energy resources. As noted earlier, we call a particular resource renewable if nature can replace it within a short time relative to a human life span (in months or, at most, decades). A resource is non-renewable if nature takes a very long time (hundreds to perhaps millions of years) to replenish it. Oil is a non-renewable resource, in that the rate at which humans consume it far exceeds the rate at which nature replenishes it, so we will inevitably run out of oil. The question is, when?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Oil and Gas

Oil and Gas

What Are Oil and Gas? 

For reasons of economics and convenience, industrialized societies today rely primarily on oil (petroleum) and natural gas for their energy needs. Oil and natural gas, both fossil fuels, consist of hydrocarbons, chain-like or ring-like molecules made of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Chemists consider hydrocarbons to be a type of organic chemical.
Some hydrocarbons are gaseous and invisible, some resemble a watery liquid, some appear syrupy, and some are solid. The viscosity (ability to flow) and the volatility (ability to evaporate) of a hydrocarbon product depend on the size of its molecules. Hydrocarbon products composed of short chains of molecules tend to be less viscous (meaning they can flow more easily) and more volatile (meaning they evaporate more easily) than products composed of long chains, because the long chains tend to tangle up with each other. Thus, short-chain molecules occur in gaseous form (natural gas) at room temperature, moderate-length-chain molecules occur in liquid form (gasoline and oil), and long-chain molecules occur in solid form (tar).

Stratigraphic Formations and Their Correlation

Stratigraphic Formations and Their Correlation

We can summarize information about the sequence of sedimentary strata at a location by drawing a stratigraphic column. Typically, we draw columns to scale, so that the relative thicknesses of layers portrayed on the column reflect the thicknesses of layers in the outcrop. Then, we divide the sequence of strata represented on a column into stratigraphic formations (“formations,” for short), a sequence of beds of a specific rock type or group of rock types that can be traced over a fairly broad region. The boundary surface between two formations is a type of geologic contact. (Fault surfaces and the boundary between an igneous intrusion and its wall-rock are also types of contacts.) Typically, a formation has a specific geologic age.

The stratigraphic formations and stratigraphic column for the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The Geologic Column

The Geologic Column

Global correlation of strata led to the development of the geologic column.
As stated earlier, no one locality on Earth provides a complete record of our planet’s history, because stratigraphic columns can contain unconformities. But by correlating rocks from locality to locality at millions of places around the world, geologists have pieced together a composite stratigraphic column, called the geologic column, that represents the entirety of Earth history (figure above a, b). The column is divided into segments, each of which represents a specific interval of time. The largest subdivisions break Earth history into the Hadean, Archean, Proterozoic, and Phanerozoic Eons. (The first three together constitute the Precambrian.) The suffix zoic means life, so Phanerozoic means visible life, and Proterozoic means first life. (It wasn’t until after the eons had been named that geologists determined that the earliest life, cells of Bacteria and Archaea, appeared in the Archean Eon.) The Phanerozoic Eon is subdivided into eras. In order from oldest to youngest, they are the Paleozoic (ancient life), Mesozoic (middle life), and Cenozoic (recent life) Eras. We further divide each era into periods and each period into epochs.

Unconformities: Gaps in the Record

Unconformities: Gaps in the Record 

The unconformity at Siccar Point, Scotland.
To find good exposures of rock, James Hutton sometimes boated along the coast of Scotland, where waves of the stormy North Sea have stripped away soil and shrubbery. He was particularly puzzled by an outcrop at Siccar Point, where two distinct sequences of sedimentary rock lie in contact (figure above a, b). In the lower portion of the outcrop, beds of gray sandstone and shale dip nearly vertically, whereas in the upper portion, beds of red sandstone and conglomerate display a dip of less than 20 degree. Further, the gently dipping layers seem to lie across the truncated ends of the vertical layers, like a handkerchief lying across a row of books. We can imagine that as Hutton was examining this odd geometric relationship, the tide came in and deposited a new layer of sand on top of the rocky shore. With the principle of uniformitarianism in mind, Hutton suddenly realized the significance of what he saw. The gray sandstone-shale sequence had been deposited, turned into rock, tilted, and truncated by erosion before the red sandstone–conglomerate beds had been deposited.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Evolution and Extinction

Evolution and Extinction 

Darwin’s Grand Idea 

As a young man in England in the early 19th century, Charles Darwin had been unable to settle on a career but had developed a strong interest in natural history. Therefore, he jumped at the opportunity to serve as a naturalist aboard HMS Beagle on an around-the-world surveying cruise. During the five years of the cruise, from 1831 to 1836, Darwin made detailed observations of plants, animals, and geology in the field and amassed an immense specimen collection from South America, Australia, and Africa. Just before Darwin departed on the voyage, a friend gave him a copy of Charles Lyell’s 1830 textbook, Principles of Geology, which argued in favour of James Hutton’s proposal that the Earth had a long history and that geologic time extended much further into the past than did human civilization.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Fossil Record

The Fossil Record 

A Brief History of Life 

Based on laboratory experiments conducted in the 1950s, researchers speculated that reactions in concentrated “soups” of chemicals that formed when seawater evaporated in shallow, coastal pools led to the formation of the earliest protein-like organic chemicals (“proto-life”). More recent studies suggest, instead, that such reactions took place in warm groundwater beneath the Earth’s surface or at hydrothermal vents on the sea floor. While the nature of proto-life remains a mystery, an image of early life has begun to take shape, based on detailed analysis of the oldest sedimentary rocks. The fossil record defines the subsequent long-term record of life’s evolution on planet Earth. And, of course, that record is more complete in younger strata.

Taxonomy and Identification of fossils

Taxonomy and Identification of fossils

The study of how to identify and name organisms is taxonomy. Taxonomic classification of fossils follows the same principles used for the classification of living organisms and has a hierarchy of divisions. These principles were first proposed in the 18th century by Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish biologist.

Fossilization

Fossilization

What Kinds of Rocks Contain Fossils? 

Most fossils are found in sediments or sedimentary rocks. Fossils form when organisms die and become buried by sediment, or when organisms travel over or through sediment and leave imprints or debris. The degree of preservation of a fossil reflects the context of burial. For example, rocks formed from sediments deposited under anoxic (oxygen-free) conditions in quiet water (such as lake beds or lagoons) can preserve particularly fine specimens. In contrast, rocks made from sediments deposited in high-energy environments where strong currents tumble shells and bones and break them up contain at best only small fragments of fossils mixed with other clastic grains. Fossils sometimes occur in volcaniclastic rocks, but they are not found in intrusive igneous rocks and tend to be destroyed by metamorphism.

Basins and Domes in Cratons

Basins and Domes in Cratons 

North America’s craton consists of a shield, where Precambrian rock is exposed, and a platform, where Paleozoic sedimentary rock covers the Precambrian.
A craton consists of crust that has not been affected by orogeny for at least about the last 1 billion years. As a result, cratons have cooled substantially, and therefore have become relatively strong and stable. Geologists divide cratons into two provinces: shields, in which Precambrian metamorphic and igneous rocks crop out at the ground surface, and cratonic platforms, where a relatively thin layer of Phanerozoic sediment covers the Precambrian rocks (figure above).

Mountain Topography

Mountain Topography 

Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance artist and scientist, enjoyed walking in the mountains, sketching ledges and examining the rocks he found there. In the process, he discovered marine shells (fossils) in limestone beds cropping out a kilometre above sea level, and he suggested that the rock containing the fossils had risen from below sea level up to its present elevation. Modern geologists agree with Leonardo, and they now refer to processes causing the surface of the Earth to move vertically from a lower to a higher elevation as uplift. In this section, we look at why uplift occurs, how erosion carves rugged landscapes out of uplifted crust, and why Earth’s mountains can’t get much higher than Mt. Everest.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Mountain Building

Mountain Building

Before plate tectonics theory became established, geologists were just plain confused about how mountains formed. In the context of the new theory, however, the many processes driving mountain building became clear: mountains form primarily in response to convergent-boundary deformation, continental collisions, and rifting. Since collision zones, rifts, and plate boundaries are linear, mountain belts are linear. Below, we look at these different settings and the types of mountains and geologic structures that develop in each one.

Folds and Foliations

Folds and Foliations

Geometry of Folds Imagine a carpet lying flat on the floor. Push on one end of the carpet, and it will wrinkle or contort into a series of wavelike curves. Stresses developed during mountain building can similarly warp or bend bedding and foliation (or other planar features) in rock. The result a curve in the shape of a rock layer is called a fold.

Geometric characteristics of folds.
Not all folds look the same some look like arches, some look like troughs, and some have other shapes. To describe these shapes, we must first label the parts of a fold (figure above a). The hinge refers to a line along which the curvature is greatest, and the limbs are the sides of the fold that display less curvature. The axial surface is an imaginary plane that contains the hinges of successive layers and effectively divides the fold into two halves. With these terms in hand, we distinguish among the following: 
  • Anticlines, synclines, and monoclines: Folds that have an arch-like shape in which the limbs dip away from the hinge are called anticlines (figure above a), whereas folds with a trough-like shape in which the limbs dip toward the hinge are called synclines (figure above b). A monocline has the shape of a carpet draped over a stair step (figure above c). 
  • Non-plunging and plunging folds: If the hinge is horizontal, the fold is called a non-plunging fold, but if the hinge is tilted, the fold is called a plunging fold (figure above d). 
  • Domes and basins: A fold with the shape of an overturned bowl is called a dome, whereas a fold shaped like an upright bowl is called a basin (figure above e, f). Domes and basins both display circular outcrop patterns that look like bull’s-eyes the oldest layer occurs in the centre of a dome, whereas the youngest layer is located in the centre of a basin. 
Characteristics of folds on outcrops and in the landscape.
Using these terms, now see if you can identify the various folds shown in figure above a–e.

Formation of Folds 

Fold development in flexural-slip and passive flow-folding.
Folds develop in two principal ways (figure above a, b). During formation of flexural-slip folds, a stack of layers bends, and slip occurs between the layers. The same phenomenon happens when you bend a deck of cards to accommodate the change in shape, the cards slide with respect to each other. Passive-flow folds form when the rock, overall, is so soft that it behaves like weak plastic and slowly flows; these folds develop simply because different parts of the rock body flow at different rates. 

Folding is caused by several different processes, as illustrated by the following cross sections.
Why do folds form? Some layers wrinkle up, or buckle, in response to end-on compression (figure above a–d). Others form where shear stress gradually shifts one part of a layer up and over another part. Still others develop where rock layers move up and over step-like bends in a fault and must curve to conform with the fault’s shape. Finally, some folds form when new slip on a fault causes a block of basement to move up so that the overlying sedimentary layers must warp.

Tectonic Foliation in Rocks 

In an undeformed sandstone, the grains of quartz are roughly spherical, and in an undeformed shale, clay flakes press  together into the plane of bedding so that shales tend to split parallel to the bedding. During ductile deformation, however, internal changes take place in a rock that gradually modify the original shape and arrangement of grains. For example, quartz grains may transform into cigar shapes, elongate ribbons, or tiny pancakes, and clay flakes may recrystallize or reorient so that they lie at an angle to the bedding. Overall, deformation can produce inequant grains and can cause them to align parallel to each other. We refer to layering developed by the alignment of grains in response to deformation as tectonic foliation. 

The development of tectonic foliation in rock.
We introduced foliation, such as slaty cleavage, schistosity, and gneissic layering, while discussing the effects of metamorphism. Here we add to the story by noting that such foliation forms in response to flattening and shearing in ductilely deforming rocks in other words, foliation indicates that the rock has developed a strain under metamorphic conditions (figure above a, b).
Credits: Stephen Marshak (Essentials of Geology)

Brittle Structures

Brittle Structures 

Joints and Veins 

Examples of joints and veins.
If you look at the photographs of rock outcrops, you’ll notice thin dark lines that cross the rock faces. These lines represent traces of natural cracks along which the rock broke and separated into two pieces during brittle deformation.  Geologists refer to such natural cracks as joints (figure above a, b). Rock bodies do not slide past each other on joints. Since joints are roughly planar structures, we define their orientation by their strike and dip, as described in (Describing the Orientation of Geologic Structures).

Rock Deformation

Rock Deformation 

What Are Deformation and Strain? 

Deformation changes the character and configuration of rocks.
To get a visual sense of what geologists mean by the term deformation, let’s contrast rock that has not been affected by an orogeny with rock that has been affected. Our “undeformed” example comes from a road cut in the Great Plains of North America, and our “deformed” example comes from a cliff in the Alps of Europe (figure above a, b).

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Seismic Study of Earth’s Interior

Seismic Study of Earth’s Interior 

Let’s now utilize your knowledge of seismic velocity, refraction, and reflection to see how each of the major layer boundaries inside the Earth was discovered.

Discovering the Crust-Mantle Boundary 

Discovery of the Moho.
The concept that seismic waves refract at boundaries between different layers led to the first documentation of the core-mantle boundary. In 1909, Andrija Mohorovicic, a Croatian seismologist, noted that P-waves arriving at seismometer stations less than 200 km from the epicentre travelled at an average speed of 6 km per second, whereas P-waves arriving at seismometers more than 200 km from the epicentre travelled at an average speed of 8 km per second. To explain this observation, he suggested that P-waves reaching nearby seismometers followed a shallow path through the crust, in which they travelled relatively slowly, whereas P-waves reaching distant seismometers followed a deeper path through the mantle, in which they travelled relatively rapidly (figure above a, b).

The Movement of Seismic Waves Through the Earth

The Movement of Seismic Waves Through the Earth 

Wave Fronts and Travel Times 

The propagation of earthquake waves.
The energy released by an earthquake moves through rock in the form of waves, just as waves propagate outward from the impact point of a pebble on the surface of a pond. The boundary between the rock through which a wave has passed and the rock through which it has not yet passed is called a wave front. In 3-D, a wave front expands outward from the earthquake focus like a growing bubble. We can represent a succession of waves in a drawing by a series of concentric wave fronts. The changing position of an imaginary point on a wave front as the front moves through rock is called a seismic ray. You can picture a seismic ray as a line drawn perpendicular to a wave front; each point on a curving wave front follows a slightly different ray (figure above a). The time it takes for a wave to travel from the focus to a seismometer along a given ray is the travel time along that ray.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Defining the “Size” of Earthquakes

Defining the “Size” of Earthquakes 

Some earthquakes shake the ground violently, whereas others can barely be felt. Seismologists have developed two scales to define size in a uniform way, so that they can systematically describe and compare earthquakes. The first scale focuses on the severity of damage at a locality and is called the Mercalli Intensity scale. The second focuses on the amount of ground motion at a specific distance from the epicentre, as measured by a seismometer, and is called the magnitude scale.

How Do We Measure and Locate Earthquakes?

How Do We Measure and Locate Earthquakes?

Most news reports about earthquakes provide information on the size and location of an earthquake. What does this information mean, and how do we obtain it? What’s the difference between a large earthquake and a minor one? How do seismologists locate an epicentre? To answer these questions we must first understand how a seismometer works and how to read the information it provides.

What Causes Earthquakes?

What Causes Earthquakes?

To the causes of earthquakes, Ancient cultures offered a variety of explanations for seismicity (earthquake activity), most of which involved the action or mood of a giant animal or god. Scientific study suggests that seismicity instead occurs for several reasons, including: 
  • the sudden formation of a new fault (a fracture or rupture on which sliding occurs) 
  • sudden slip on an already existing fault
  • a sudden change in the arrangement of atoms in rock  minerals 
  • movement of magma in, or explosion of, a volcano
  • a giant landslide 
  • a meteorite impact
  • an underground nuclear-bomb test
Of these various reasons, faulting related to plate movements is by far the most significant. In other words, where do most earthquakes occur are along faults slip

Earthquake hypocenters and epicentres.
The place within the Earth where rock ruptures and slips, or the place where an explosion occurs, is the hypocenter or focus of the earthquake. Energy radiates from the focus. The point on the surface of the Earth that lies directly above the focus is the epicentre, so maps can portray the position of epicentres (figure above a, b). Since slip on faults causes most earthquakes, we focus our discussion on faults.
How earthquakes happen? Where do most earthquakes occur? Why do earthquakes happen? How do earthquakes happen? Where are earthquakes most likely to occur? Why do earthquakes happen?

Faults in the Crust 

Examples of fault displacement on the San Andreas fault in California.
At first glance, a fault may look simply like a fracture or break that cuts across rock or sediment. But on closer examination, you may be able to see evidence of sliding that occurred on a fault. For example, the rock adjacent to the fault may be broken up into angular fragments or may be pulverized into tiny grains, due to the crushing and grinding that can accompany slip, and the surface of a fault may be polished and grooved as if scratched by a rasp. In some localities, a fault cuts through a distinct marker (a sedimentary bed, an igneous dike, or a fence); where this happens, the end of the marker on one side of the fault is offset relative to the end on the other side. The distance between two ends of the marker, as measured along the fault surface in the direction of slip, is the fault’s displacement (figure above a, b). Many faults are completely underground, and will be visible only if exposed by erosion of overlying rock. But some faults intersect and offset the ground surface, producing a step called a fault scarp (figure below a). The ground surface exposure of a fault is called the fault line or fault trace

The basic types of fault. Fault types are distinguished from one another by the direction of slip relative to the fault surface.
19th-century miners who encountered faults in mine tunnels referred to the rock mass above a sloping fault plane as the hanging wall, because it hung over their heads, and the rock mass below the fault plane as the footwall, because it lay beneath their feet. The miners described the direction in which rock masses slipped on a sloping fault by specifying the direction that the hanging wall moved in relation to the footwall, and we still use these terms today. When the hanging wall slips down the slope of the fault, it’s a normal fault. When the hanging wall slips up the slope, it’s a reverse fault if steep, and a thrust fault if shallowly sloping (figure above a–c). Strike-slip faults are near-vertical planes on which slip occurs parallel to an imaginary horizontal line, called a strike line, on the fault plane no up or down motion takes place on such faults (figure above d).
Faults are found in many locations but don’t panic! Not all of them are likely to be the source of earthquakes. Faults that have moved recently or are likely to move in the near future are called active faults (and if they generate earthquakes, news media sometimes refer to them as “earthquake faults”). Faults that last moved in the distant past and probably won’t move again in the near future are called inactive faults.

Generating Earthquake Energy: Stick-Slip 

What is the relationship between faulting and earthquakes? Earthquakes can happen either when rock breaks and a new fault forms, or when a pre-existing fault suddenly slips again. Let’s look more closely at these two causes. 

A model representing the development of a new fault. Rupturing can generate earthquake-like vibrations.
  • Earthquakes due to fault formation: Imagine that you grip each side of a brick-shaped block of rock with a clamp. Apply an upward push on one of the clamps and a downward push on the other. By doing so, you have applied a “stress” to the rock. (Stress refers to a push, pull, or shear.) At first, the rock bends slightly but doesn't break (figure above a). In fact, if you were to stop applying stress at this stage, the rock would return to its original shape. Geologists refer to such a phenomenon as elastic behaviour the same phenomenon happens when a rubber band returns to its original shape or a bent stick straightens out after you let go. Now repeat the experiment, but bend the rock even more. If you bend the rock far enough, a number of small cracks or breaks start to form. Eventually the cracks connect to one another to form a fracture that cuts across the entire block of rock (figure above b). The instant that this fracture forms, the block breaks in two and the rock on one side suddenly slides past the rock on the other side, and any elastic bending that had built up is released so the rock straightens out or rebounds (figure above c). Because sliding occurs, the fracture has become a fault. A fault can’t slip forever, for friction eventually slows and stops the movement. Friction, defined as the force that resists  sliding on a surface, is caused by the existence of bumps on surfaces these bumps act like tiny anchors and snag on the opposing surface. 
  • Earthquakes due to slip on a pre-existing fault: Once a fault comes into being, it is a scar in the Earth’s crust that can remain weaker than surrounding, intact crust. When stress builds sufficiently, it overcomes friction and the pre-existing fault slips again. This movement takes place before stress becomes great enough to cause new fracturing of surrounding intact rock. Note that after each slip event, friction prevents the fault from slipping again until stress builds again. Geologists refer to such alternation between stress buildup and slip events (earthquakes) as stick-slip  behaviour. 
The breaking of rock that occurs when a fault slips, like the snap of a stick, generates earthquake energy. The concept that earthquakes happen because stresses build up, causing rock adjacent to the fault to bend elastically until slip on the fault occurs is called the  elastic-rebound theory. 
Of note, the major earthquake (or “mainshock”) along a fault may be preceded by smaller ones, called foreshocks, which possibly result from the development of the smaller cracks in the vicinity of what will be the major rupture. Smaller earthquakes, called aftershocks, occur in the days to months following a large earthquake. The largest aftershock tends to be ten times smaller than the mainshock, and most are even smaller. Aftershocks happen because slip during the  mainshock does not leave the fault in a perfectly stable configuration. For example, after the mainshock, irregularities on one side of the fault surface, in their new position, may push into the opposing side and generate new stresses. Such stresses may become large enough to cause a small portion of the fault around the irregularity to slip again, or may trigger slip in a nearby fault.

The Amount of Slip during an Earthquake 

How much of a fault surface slips during an earthquake? The answer depends on the size of the earthquake: the larger the earthquake, the larger the slipped area and the greater the displacement. For example, the major earthquake that hit San Francisco, California, in 1906 ruptured a 430-km-long (measured parallel to the Earth’s surface) by 15-km-deep (measured perpendicular to the Earth’s surface) segment of the San Andreas fault. Thus, the area that slipped was almost 6500 km2. During the 2011 Tohoku earthquake an area 300 km long by 100 km wide (30,000 km2) slipped. 
The amount of slip varies along the length of a fault the maximum observed displacement during the 1906 earthquake was 7 m, in a strike-slip sense. Slip on a thrust fault that caused the 1964 Good Friday earthquake in southern Alaska reached a maximum of 12 m, and the maximum slip during the Tohoku earthquake was over 20 m. Smaller earthquakes, such as the one that hit Northridge, California, in 1994, resulted in only about 0.5-m slip even so, this earthquake toppled homes, ruptured pipelines, and killed 51 people. The smallest-felt earthquakes result from displacements measured in millimetres to centimetres. 
Although the cumulative movement on a fault during a human life span may not amount to much, over geologic time the cumulative movement becomes significant. For example, if earthquakes occurring on a strike-slip fault cause 1 cm of displacement per year, on average, the fault’s movement will yield 10 km of displacement after 1 million years.
Credits: Stephen Marshak (Essentials of Geology)

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Where Does Metamorphism Occur?

Where Does Metamorphism Occur? 

So far, we've discussed the nature of changes that occur during metamorphism, the agents of metamorphism (heat, pressure, compression and shear, and hydrothermal fluids), the rock types that form as a result of metamorphism, and the concepts of metamorphic grade and metamorphic facies. With this background, let’s now examine the geologic settings on Earth where metamorphism takes place, as viewed from the perspective of plate tectonics theory.
Because of the wide range of possible metamorphic environments, metamorphism occurs at a wide range of conditions in the Earth. You will see that the conditions under which metamorphism occurs are not the same in all geologic settings. That’s because the geothermal gradient (the relation between temperature and depth), the extent to which rocks endure compression and shear during metamorphism, and the extent to which rocks interact with hydrothermal fluids all depend on the geologic environment.

Types of Metamorphic Rocks

Types of Metamorphic Rocks 

Coming up with a way to classify and name the great variety of metamorphic rocks on Earth hasn't been easy. After decades of debate, geologists have found it most convenient to divide metamorphic rocks into two fundamental classes: foliated rocks and non-foliated rocks. Each class contains several rock types. We distinguish foliated rocks from each other partly by their component minerals and partly by the nature of their foliation, whereas we distinguish non-foliated rocks from each other primarily by their component minerals. 

Foliated Metamorphic Rocks 

To understand this class of rocks, we first need to discuss the nature of foliation in more detail. The word comes from the Latin folium, for leaf. Geologists use foliation to refer to the parallel surfaces and/or layers that can occur in a metamorphic rock. Foliation can give metamorphic rocks a striped or streaked appearance in an outcrop, and/or can give them the ability to split into thin sheets. A foliated metamorphic rock has foliation either because it contains inequant mineral crystals that are aligned parallel to one another, defining preferred mineral orientation, and/or because the rock has alternating dark-coloured and light-coloured layers.

Sedimentary Basins

Sedimentary Basins

The sedimentary veneer on the Earth’s surface varies greatly in thickness. If you stand in central Siberia or south-central Canada, you will find yourself on igneous and metamorphic basement rocks that are over a billion years old sedimentary rocks are nowhere in sight. Yet if you stand along the southern coast of Texas, you would have to drill through over 15 km of sedimentary beds before reaching igneous and metamorphic basement. Thick accumulations of sediment form only in special regions where the surface of the Earth’s lithosphere sinks, providing space in which sediment collects. Geologists use the term subsidence to refer to the process by which the surface of the lithosphere sinks, and the term sedimentary basin for the sediment-filled depression. In what geologic settings do sedimentary basins form? An understanding of plate tectonics theory provides the answers.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Relation of Volcanism to Plate Tectonics

Relation of Volcanism to Plate Tectonics 

A map showing the distribution of volcanoes around the world and the basic geologic settings in which volcanoes form, in the contact of plate tectonics theory.
Different styles of volcanism occur at different locations on Earth. Most eruptions occur along plate boundaries, but major eruptions also occur at hot spots (figure above). We’ll now look at the settings in which eruptions occur, in the context of plate tectonics theory and see why different kinds of volcanoes form in different settings.

How Do You Describe an Igneous Rock?

How Do You Describe an Igneous Rock? 

Different parameters are used to describe an igneous rock which are described in detail.

Characterizing Color and Texture 

If you wander around a city admiring building facades, you’ll find that many facades consist of igneous rock, for such rocks tend to be very durable. If you had to describe one of these rocks to a friend, what words might you use? You would  probably start by noting the rock’s colour. Overall, is the rock dark or light? More specifically, is it gray, pink, white, or black? Describing colour may not be easy, because some igneous rocks contain many visible mineral grains, each with a different colour; but even so, you’ll probably be able to characterize the overall hue of the rock. Generally, the colour reflects the rock’s composition, but it isn't always so simple, because colour may also be influenced by grain size and by the presence of trace amounts of impurities. (For example, the presence of a small amount of iron oxide gives rock a reddish tint.) Next, you would probably characterize the rock’s texture. A description of igneous texture indicates whether the rock consists of glass, crystals, or fragments. If the rock consists of crystals or fragments, a description of texture also specifies the grain size. Here are the common terms for defining texture:

Saturday, 5 March 2016

How Do Extrusive and Intrusive Environments Differ?

How Do Extrusive and Intrusive Environments Differ? 

With a background on how melts form and freeze, we can now introduce key features of the two settings intrusive and extrusive in which igneous rocks form.

Extrusive Igneous Settings 

Different volcanoes extrude molten rock in different ways. Some volcanoes erupt streams of low-viscosity lava that flood down the flanks of the volcano and then cover broad swaths of the countryside. When this lava freezes, it forms a relatively thin lava flow. Such flows may cool in days to months. In contrast, some volcanoes erupt viscous masses of lava that pile into rubbly domes. And still others erupt explosively, sending clouds of volcanic ash and debris skyward, and/or avalanches of ash tumbling down the sides of the volcano.

Movement and Solidification of Molten Rock

Movement and Solidification of Molten Rock 

If magma stayed put once it formed, new igneous rocks would not develop in or on the crust. But it doesn't stay put; magma tends to move upward, away from where it formed. In some cases, it reaches the Earth’s surface and erupts at a volcano. This movement is a key component of the Earth System, because it transfers material from deeper parts of the Earth upward and provides the raw material from which new rocks and the atmosphere and ocean form. Eventually, magma freezes and transforms into a new solid rock.

Why Does Magma Rise? 

Magma rises for two reasons. First, buoyancy drives magma upward just as it drives a wooden block up through water, because magma is less dense than the surrounding rock. Second, magma rises because the weight of overlying rock creates pressure at depth that literally squeezes magma upward. The same process happens when you step into a puddle barefoot and mud squeezes up between your toes.

What Controls the Speed of Flow? 

Viscosity affects lava behaviour .
Viscosity, or resistance to flow, affects the speed with which magmas or lavas move. Magmas with low viscosity flow more easily than those with high viscosity, just as water flows more easily than molasses. Viscosity depends on temperature, volatile content, and silica content. Hotter magma is less viscous than cooler magma, just as hot tar is less viscous than cool tar, because thermal energy breaks bonds and allows atoms to move more easily. Similarly, magmas or lavas containing more volatiles are less viscous than dry (volatile-free) magmas, because the volatiles also tend to break apart silicate molecules and may also form gas bubbles. Mafic magmas are less viscous than felsic magmas, because silicon-oxygen tetrahedra tend to link together in magma to create long molecular chains that can’t move past each other easily, and there are more of these chains in a felsic magma than in a mafic magma. Thus, hotter mafic lavas have relatively low viscosity and flow in thin sheets over wide regions, but cooler felsic lavas are highly viscous and may clump into a dome-like mound at the volcanic vent (figure above a, b). 

Transforming Melt into Rock 

If a melt stayed at its point of origin, and nothing in its surroundings changed, it would stay molten. But melts don’t last forever. Rather, they eventually solidify or “freeze.” This process happens, in some cases, because volatiles escape from the melt, so that the freezing temperature rises if the melt’s temperature stays the same but its freezing temperature rises, it will solidify. Most often, however, freezing takes place simply when melt cools below its freezing temperature. Temperature decreases upward, toward the Earth’s surface, so magma enters a cooler environment automatically as it rises. If it is trapped underground as an intrusion, it slowly loses heat to surrounding wall rock, drops below its freezing temperature, and solidifies. If melt extrudes as lava at the ground surface, it cools in contact with air or water. 
The time it takes for a magma to cool depends on how fast it is able to transfer heat into its surroundings. To see why, think about the process of cooling coffee. If you pour hot coffee into a thermos bottle and seal it, the coffee stays hot for hours; because it’s insulated, the coffee in the thermos loses heat to the air outside only very slowly. Like the thermos bottle, surrounding wall rock acts as an insulator in that it transports heat away from a magma only very slowly, so magma underground (in an intrusive environment) cools slowly. In contrast, if you spill coffee on a table, it cools quickly because it loses heat to the cold air. Similarly, lava that erupts at the ground surface cools quickly because the air or water surrounding it can conduct heat away quickly. 
Three factors control the cooling time of magma that freezes below the surface in the intrusive realm. 

Factors that affect the freezing of molten rocks.
  • The depth of intrusion: Magma intruded deep in the crust, where it is surrounded by warm wall rock, cools more slowly than does magma intruded into cold wall rock near the ground surface. 
  • The shape and size of a magma body: Heat escapes from magma at an intrusion’s surface, so the greater the surface area for a given volume of intrusion, the faster it cools. Thus, a body of magma roughly with the shape of a pancake cools faster than one with the shape of a melon. And since the ratio of surface area to volume increases as size decreases, a body of magma the size of a car cools faster than one the size of a ship (figure above a, b). 
  • The presence of circulating groundwater: Water passing through magma absorbs and carries away heat, much like the coolant that flows around an automobile engine.

Changes in Magma during Cooling:  Fractional Crystallization 

Most people are familiar with the process of forming ice out of liquid water cool the water to a temperature of 0nC and crystals of ice start to form. Keep the temperature cold enough for long enough and all the water becomes solid, composed entirely of one type of mineral water ice. The process of freezing magma or lava is much more complex, because molten rock contains many different compounds, not just water, so during freezing of molten rock, many different minerals form. Further, not all of these minerals form at the same time (Bowen’s Reaction Series). To get a sense of this complexity, let’s look at an example.
When a mafic magma starts to freeze, mafic (iron- and magnesium-rich) minerals such as olivine and pyroxene start to crystallize first. These solid crystals are denser than the remaining magma, so they start to sink (figure above c). Some react chemically with the remaining magma as they sink, but some reach the floor of the magma chamber and become isolated from the magma. This process of sequential crystal formation and settling is called fractional crystallization it progressively extracts iron and magnesium from the magma, so the remaining magma becomes more felsic. If a magma freezes completely before much fractional crystallization has occurred, the magma becomes mafic igneous rock. But freezing of a magma that has been left over after lots of fractional crystallization has occurred produces felsic igneous rock.

Bowen’s Reaction Series

In the 1920s, the Canadian geologist Norman L. Bowen began a series of laboratory experiments designed to determine the sequence in which silicate minerals crystallize from a melt. First, Bowen melted powdered mafic igneous rock by raising its temperature to about 1280C. Then he cooled the melt just enough to cause part of it to solidify. Finally, he “quenched” the remaining melt by submerging it quickly in cold mercury. Quenching, which means sudden cooling to form a solid, transformed any remaining liquid into glass. The glass trapped the earlier-formed crystals within it. Bowen identified mineral crystals formed before quenching with a microscope, and he analyzed the chemical composition of the remaining glass. 

Bowen's reaction series indicates the succession of crystallization in cooling magma.
After experiments at different temperatures, Bowen found that, as new crystals form, they extract certain chemicals preferentially from the melt (figure above a). Thus, the chemical composition of the remaining melt progressively changes as the melt cools. Bowen described the specific sequence of mineral-producing reactions that take place in a cooling, initially mafic, magma. This sequence is now called Bowen’s reaction series in his honour.
Let’s examine the sequence more closely. In a cooling melt, olivine and calcium-rich plagioclase form first. This plagioclase reacts with the melt to form more, but different plagioclase; the plagioclase formed at a later stage contains more sodium (Na). Meanwhile, some olivine crystals react with the remaining melt to produce pyroxene, which may encase early olivine crystals or even replace them. However, some of the early olivine and Caplagioclase crystals settle out of the melt, taking iron, magnesium, and calcium atoms with them. By this process, the remaining melt becomes progressively enriched in silica. As the melt continues to cool, plagioclase continues to form, with later-formed plagioclase having progressively more sodium than earlier-formed plagioclase. Pyroxene crystals react with melt to form amphibole, and then amphibole reacts with the remaining melt to form biotite. All the while, crystals continue to settle out, so the remaining melt continues to become more felsic. At temperatures of between 650°C and 850°C, only about 10% melt remains, and this melt has a high silica content. At this stage, the final melt freezes, yielding quartz, K-feldspar (orthoclase), and muscovite. 
On the basis of his observations, Bowen realized that there are two tracks  to the reaction series. The “discontinuous” reaction series refers to the sequence  olivine, pyroxene, amphibole, biotite, K-feldspar-muscovite-quartz in that each step yields a different class of silicate mineral. The “continuous” reaction series refers to the progressive change from  calcium-rich to Na-rich plagioclase: the steps yield different versions of the  same mineral (figure above b). It’s important to note that not all minerals listed in the series appear in all igneous rock.  For example, a mafic magma may completely crystallize before felsic minerals such as quartz or K-feldspar have a chance to form.
Credits: Stephen Marshak (Essentials of Geology)

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Studying Rock

Studying Rock 

Outcrop Observations 

The study of rocks begins by examining a rock in an outcrop. If the outcrop is big enough, such an examination will reveal relationships between the rock you’re interested in and the rocks around it, and will allow you to detect layering. Geologists carefully record observations about an outcrop, then break off a hand specimen, a fist-sized piece, that they can examine more closely with a hand lens (magnifying glass). Observation with a hand lens enables geologists to identify sand-sized or larger grains, and may enable them to describe the texture of the rock.

Thin-Section Study 

Studying rocks in thin section.

The Basis of Rock Classification

The Basis of Rock Classification 

Examples of three major rock groups.
Beginning in the 18th century, geologists struggled to develop a sensible way to classify rocks, for they realized, as did miners from centuries past, that not all rocks are the same. Classification schemes help us organize information and remember significant details about materials or objects, and they help us recognize similarities and differences among them. By the end of the 18th century, most geologists had accepted the genetic scheme for classifying rocks that we continue to use today. This scheme focuses on the origin (genesis) of rocks. Using this approach, geologists recognize three basic groups: (1) igneous rocks, which form by the freezing (solidification) of molten rock (figure above a); (2) sedimentary rocks, which form either by the cementing together of fragments (grains) broken off preexisting rocks or by the precipitation of mineral crystals out of water solutions at or near the Earth’s surface (figure above b); and (3) metamorphic rocks, which form when pre-existing rocks change character in response to a change in pressure and temperature conditions (figure above c). Metamorphic change occurs in the solid state, which means that it does not require melting. In the context of modern plate tectonics theory, different rock types form in different geologic settings (figure below).