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PgDip/MSc Energy Programme/Subsurface

Basic Geology

Basic Geology
Review
In this topic the student is introduced to the fundamentals of
the Earths structure, plate tectonics and rock types.

Content
Earth Structure

Figure 1. The Earths Structure. (From THE DYNAMIC EARTH by B.J. Skinner
and S.C. Porter, copyright 2000 John Wiley and Sons. This material is used by
permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

Figure 1 illustrates the structure of the Earth. There is a central solid iron
core, surrounded by a liquid iron core, the lower mantle and the upper
mantle. The upper mantle consists of a weak, partially molten
asthenosphere and finally there is a strong lithosphere with a surficial

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crust of light rock. About 90% of the earths crust is made up of the four
elements: iron, oxygen, silicon and magnesium, which are the
fundamental building blocks of most minerals. Iron, being heavy, sinks to
the core, and lighter elements such as silicon, aluminium, calcium,
potassium and sodium have risen to the crust.

Plate Tectonics
Plate Tectonics was first proposed in the 1960s. The central idea is the
division of the lithosphere into 12 rigid plates (6 major ones), which each
move as distinct units (Figure 2). The plates consist of rigid lithosphere
(with either thin, dense oceanic crust or thick, less dense continental
crust), which floats on the partially molten asthenosphere (Figure 3).
Convection currents within the asthenosphere are thought to be the
driving force behind the plate movement. Where hot matter rises under
the ocean it flows apart and carries the plates along with it (Figure 4).
When this hot matter cools and sinks the plates also begin to sink. The
plates are constantly moving, which explains why the Atlantic Ocean did
not exist 150 Ma (million years ago). At this time it has been established
that Eurasia, Africa and the Americas were all one continent called
Pangea. It is possible to trace the effects of tectonics back approximately
4.6 billion years, although the rock record and hence history becomes
hazy after about 1 billion years.
The margins between the 12 plates are Divergent (spreading apart),
Convergent (colliding together) or Transform (sliding past each other).
Plates are constantly produced and consumed. Volcanic and seismic
activity along plate margins varies depending on type. Trailing edges
tend not to be particularly active (most of Europe) whereas leading edges
tend to be very active.

Figure 2. Tectonic Plates Today (Peter J Sloss, NOAA-NESDIS-NGDC).

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Figure 3. Close-Up of Crust and Asthenosphere. (From UNDERSTANDING


EARTH by Frank Press and Raymond Siever, 1998, 1994 W.H. Freeman and Company.
Used with permission.)

Figure 4. Convection Currents and Plate Movement Theories. (From


UNDERSTANDING EARTH by Frank Press and Raymond Siever, 1998, 1994 W.H.
Freeman and Company. Used with permission.)

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Divergent Margins
Figure 5A illustrates a divergent plate boundary. Related features include
linear Mid Ocean Ridges (the Mid Atlantic Ridge) where the lithosphere
breaks and a rift develops. As the lithosphere breaks hot lava rises from
the asthenosphere. The rift continues to open thus separating the two
plates. This occurred between America and Africa and lead to the
formation of the Atlantic Ocean basin. The Mid Ocean Ridge (MOR) is
characterised by earthquakes and volcanism. Different lavas have
different viscosities.This leads to a variation of divergent speeds, and in
turn to offsets in the plate margin. The Mid Atlantic ridge shows an
average speed of 2.5 cm/year whereas 18 cm/year can be found in the
South Pacific.

Convergent Margins
When two plates are being pushed together the denser one will ride
below the lighter one, creating a subduction zone. Less buoyant oceanic
crust usually sinks below the thicker, lighter continental crust. Features
associated with this subduction include mountain building, trench
formation, earthquakes and volcanism. The contact of the Nazca plate
and the South American plate led to the formation of the Andes mountain
range and the Chilean deep-sea trench (Figure 5B). The Nazca plate
(plate 1) buckles downwards and the overriding South American plate
(plate 2) is crumpled and uplifted. As the subducted plate sinks it will
melt, generating a source of hot molten rock that rises into the overlying
crust, inducing volcanism.
Where two plates converge at thick continental crust edges, subduction is
low and an ever growing mountain range is formed, termed a collision
boundary (Figure 5C). The Himalayas are formed due to collision of the
Asian and Indian plates for example.

Transform Faults
Transform faults occur where two plates slide past each other (Figure
5D). The movement is generally not regular and uniform but occurs
abruptly as a series of sudden slip faults. The San Andreas Fault in
America where the Pacific plate slides past the North American plate is an
example. The sudden slip movements produce a series of damaging
earthquakes along the fault.
In summary, divergent zones are sources of new lithosphere and
subduction zones are sinks. Material is created and consumed in equal
amounts. If this were not true, the Earth would change in size.

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Figure 5. Types of Plate Margin. (From THE DYNAMIC EARTH by B.J. Skinner
and S.C. Porter, copyright 2000 John Wiley and Sons. This material is used by
permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

Magnetism
Motions in the fluid iron core of the Earth set up a dynamo action thus
generating the Earths magnetic field (Figure 6). Rocks are magnetised in
the direction of the magnetic field at the time of their formation. The
rocks can be dated radiometrically and thus the history of the magnetic
field recorded. Such studies have shown that the field reverses direction
(the reason for which is unexplained) with such reversals evident on the
seafloor. Figure 7 illustrates the symmetrical pattern of magnetised rocks
either side of a MOR.

Figure 6. Magnetic Field Lines. (From THE DYNAMIC EARTH by B.J. Skinner
and S.C. Porter, copyright 2000 John Wiley and Sons. This material is used by
permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

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Figure 7. Magnetised Rocks Either Side of a MOR. (From


UNDERSTANDING EARTH by Frank Press and Raymond Siever, 1998, 1994 W.H.
Freeman and Company. Used with permission.)

Minerals and Crystals


A mineral is defined as any naturally formed, solid, chemical substance
having a specific compostion and characteristic crystal strucure. Diamond
is a mineral as it has a defined composition (pure carbon) and crystal
structure (the atoms are packed in a three dimensional array). Graphite
is also a mineral of pure carbon, but with a sheet like crystallographic
strucure. Coal is not a mineral as it is composed of many different
compounds (although mainly carbon), the proportion of which varies
from one place to another, and has no defined structure. Coal is a rock,
which is an aggregate of minerals. Most minerals are made up of several
elements.
Table 1 shows the percentage of different elements in the Earths
continental crust. These elements combine to form molecules, which in
turn combine to form minerals. Silicates form the majority of the Earths
minerals. Figure 8 shows the evolution of rock. Crystals take on seven
basic shapes or structures (Figure 9). Some elements and compounds are
polymorphic, ie, they can take on more than one crystal strucure (carbon
forms both diamond and graphite). Examination of the crystallographic
strucure of a particular rock mineral can tell us a lot about its history and
formation. If a crystal is allowed to grow unhindered space wise, it will
take on a perfect shape (Figure 10). Salt for example forms cubic
crystals. Commonly however in rock formation, crystal growth is halted
by growth of neighbouring crystals, or the crystals are abraded and
fractured. Although there are many hundreds of minerals, there are
20-30 major rock forming minerals.

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Table 1. Most Abundant Elements in the Earths Crust.


Element

% by weight

Element

% by weight

45.2

Na

2.32

Si

27.2

1.68

Al

Ti

0.86

Fe

5.8

0.14

Ca

5.06

Mn

0.1

Mg

2.77

0.1

All Other

0.77

Figure 8. Evolution of Rock.

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Figure 9. Basic Crystal Shapes.

Figure 10. Example of Quartz Crystal in Rock Matrix Pore Space


(approximately 10m across).

Mineral Properties
Each mineral has properties dependant on composition and structure.
Once we know which properties are characteristic of which minerals it
may not be necessary to carry out a chemical analysis. Various tests can
be used to identify the type of structure, and to indicate the mineral
present. Properties such as crystal shape, colour & streak, luster,
hardness (Mohs scale), cleavage, specific gravity and optical
characteristics can be used for identification (Figure 11).

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Figure 11. Examples of Common Mineral Properties. (Photos top to


bottom: Breck P Kent, Ed Deggenger & Bruce Coleman, Chip Clark, Chip Clark)

Physical Properties of Minerals


Property

Relation to Composition & Crystal Structure

Hardness

Strong chemical bonds give high hardness. Covalently


bonded minerals are generally harder than ionically
bonded minerals.
Cleavage is poor if bond strength in crystal is high and
is good if bond strength is low. Covalent bonds generally
give poor or no cleavage; ionic bonds are weak and so
give excellent cleavage.
Type is related to distribution of bond strengths across
irregular surfaces other than cleavage planes.
Tends to be glassy for ionic bonds, more variable
covalent bonds.
Determined by kinds of atoms and trace impurities.
Many ionic crystals are colourless. Iron tends to colour
strongly.
Colour of fine powder is more characteristic than that of
massive mineral because of uniformly small grain size.
Depends on atomic weight of atoms and their closeness
of packing in crystal. Iron minerals and metals have
high density. Covalent minerals have more open
packing, hence lower densities.

Cleavage

Fracture
Lustre
Colour
Streak
Density

Moh's Scale of Hardness

Mineral Lustre
Metallic
Vitreous
Resinous
Greasy
Pearly
Silky
Adamantine

Mineral

Scale
Number

Talc
Gypsum
Calcite
Fluorite
Apatite
Orthoclase
Quartz
Topaz
Corundum
Diamond

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

Common
Object
Fingernail
Copper coin
Knife blade
Window glass
Steel file

Strong reflections produced by


opaque substances
Bright, as in glass
Characteristic of resins, such
as amber
The appearance of being
coated with an oily substance
The whitish iridescence of
materials such as pearl

The sheen of fibrous materials


such as silk
The brilliant lustre of diamond
and similar minerals

Class

Some Chemical Classes of Minerals


Defining Atoms
Example

Native elements
Oxides &
hydroxides
Halides
Carbonates
Sulphates

None: no charged atoms


Oxygen ion (O2-)
Hydroxyl ion (OH-)
Chloride (Cl-), fluoride (F-),
bromide (Br-), iodide (I-)
Carbonate ion (CO32-)
Sulphate ion (SO42-)

Silicates

Silicate ion (SiO44-)

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Copper (Cu)
Hematite (Fe2O3)
Brucite (Mg[OH]2)
Halite (NaCl)
Calcite (CaCO3)
Anhydrite
(CaSO4)
Olivine (Mg2SiO4)

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Table 2 shows commonly occurring minerals in different rock types.


Table 2. Common Minerals in Rock.
Igneous

Sedimentary

Metamorphic

Quartz *

Quartz *

Quartz *

Feldspar *

Clay minerals *

Feldspar *

Mica *

Feldspar *

Mica *

Pyroxene *

Calcite

Garnet *

Amphibole *

Dolomite

Pyroxene *

Olivine *

Gypsum

Staurolite *

Halite

Kyanite*

* Indicates mineral is a silicate.

Basic Rock Types (Rock Clans)


The rock cycle (Figure 12) illustrates the relationship between the three
main rock types or clans: Igneous, Metamorphic and Sedimentary.

Figure 12. The Rock Cycle. (From UNDERSTANDING EARTH by Frank Press and
Raymond Siever, 1998, 1994 W.H. Freeman and Company. Used with permission.)

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Igneous
The cooling and solidification of hot molten magma from the mantle
forms igneous rock. Igneous rock can be classified as intrusive (intrinsic,
plutonic) or extrusive (extrinsic, volcanic). Intrusive igneous rocks form
as magma pushes its way up through cracks and fissures into
surrounding rocks. Intrusives cool relatively slowly and crystals therefore
have time to develop. They are characterised by large crystal growth.
Extrusive igneous rocks form when magma reaches the Earths surface,
for example as lava flows from volcanic eruptions. These rocks are cooled
rapidly and are characterised by fine crystals that have not had time to
develop (Figure 13). If the lava is cooled extremely rapidly, the atoms
have no time to rearrange into crystalline structures, and glass type
structures or minaraloids are formed, obsidian for example.

Figure 13. Intrusive and Extrusive Igneous Rock Sources and


Terms. (From THE DYNAMIC EARTH by B.J. Skinner and S.C. Porter, copyright 2000
John Wiley and Sons. This material is used by permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

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Igneous rocks are the most abundant type of rock found in the Earth
today, about 70%. Minerals such as quartz, feldspar, mica and olivine are
important building blocks of igneous rocks (Figure 14). Characteristically,
the mineral crystals in igneous rocks have been restricted in growth by
surrounding crystals, so their edges are amorphous in appearance
(Figure 15). Igneous rocks of the same composition can be classified as
different rocks depending on cooling rate and resultant texture. For
example, granite (intrusive) is coarse grained, but when the same
compositional lava is cooled rapidly it forms fine grained rhyolite
(extrusive).
Lavas vary from extremely fluid basalts to viscous and explosively
eruptive rhyolites, depending on composition. Basalts are the most
common fortunately as all major volcanic disasters around the World
have been related to rhyolitic eruptions.

Figure 14. Minerals in Common Igneous Rocks. (From UNDERSTANDING


EARTH by Frank Press and Raymond Siever, 1998, 1994 W.H. Freeman and Company.
Used with permission.)

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Figure 15. Thin Section Depicting Igneous Rock and Crystal


Structure

Sedimentary
Sedimentary rocks form when igneous, metamorphic or pre-existing
sedimentary rocks are subjected to erosive forces (glaciation, wind, rain,
and snow) (Figure 16). The rocks are broken down, and the individual
grains and rock particles (detrital or clastic sediment) are transported
away from the source area and redeposited in low-lying areas. It is within
such low lying basin areas that the majority of petroleum is found.
Stratification of sedimentary rocks results from the arrangement of
sedimentary particles in distinct layers known as beds.
The conversion of unconsolidated sediment to rock is termed lithification.
Diagenesis is a term used to describe all the chemical, biological and
physical processes involved in a rocks formation during and after
lithification.
Clastic particles can be defined by size (Table 3) which in turn form
different types of rock (Figure 17). Crystals within sedimentary rocks that
have been formed by mechanical erosion of source rocks tend to be
rounded in appearance due to abrasion.

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Figure 16. Erosion and Sources of Sedimentation. (From


UNDERSTANDING EARTH by Frank Press and Raymond Siever, 1998, 1994 W.H.
Freeman and Company. Used with permission.)

Table 3. Clastic Particle Definitions.


Name of
Particle

Range Limits
of Diameter
(mm)

Name of Loose
Sediment

Name of Consolidated
Rock

Boulder

> 256

Boulder gravel

Boulder conglomerate (b)

Cobble

64 - 256

Cobble gravel

Cobble conglomerate (b)

Pebble

2 - 64

Pebble gravel

Pebble conglomerate (b)

Sand

1/16 2

Sand

Sandstone

Silt

1/256 1/16

Silt

Siltstone

Clay (a)

< 1/256

Clay

Mudstone & Shale

Notes: (a) Refers to particle size only and not to clay minerals. (b) If
clasts are angular, rock is termed Breccia rather than conglomerate.
Sediments may also be chemical in origin. Chemical sediments are the
result of dissolution of the source material, rather than erosion, and
subsequent precipitation at another location. Biogenic chemical
(bioclastic) sediments are formed from the accumulation and fossilisation
of the remains of plants and animals. Calcium carbonate based rocks for
example may be formed from remains of marine shells. Organic
substances within biogenic sediments may also be transformed into fossil
fuels if composition and conditions are correct.
It is also possible to have a rock that is half way between igneous and
sedimentary. This occurs as lava is thrown rather than flows from a
volcano, and covers the surrounding area. Grains are usually angular due
to rapid solidification and termed Breccia.

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Figure 17. Rocks from Sedimentary Particle Types. (From THE DYNAMIC
EARTH by B.J. Skinner and S.C. Porter, copyright 2000 John Wiley and Sons. This
material is used by permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

Sedimentary rocks are the primary rocks involved in oil and gas
formation and will be covered in greater detail in Topic 2.

Metamorphic
Metamorphic rocks form when igneous, sedimentary or pre-existing
metamorphic rocks are altered by heat and pressure due to their deep
burial in the Earth or due to a hot molten rock intrusion. For example, in
the subduction zone the pressure, temperature and deformation which
rocks are subjected to will lead to the formation of new mineral grains,
textural changes and thus new metamorphic rocks.
Metamorhpic rocks can be characterised by both grade and type of
metamorphism. Figure 18 illustrates the grades of metamorphism
depending on pressure and temperature. The end result is controlled by
factors such as chemical reactivity of inter-granular fluids, pressure,
temperature, differential stress across the zone of metamorphism and of
course the time span involved.

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Figure 18. Metamorphic Grades. (From THE DYNAMIC EARTH by B.J. Skinner
and S.C. Porter, copyright 2000 John Wiley and Sons. This material is used by
permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

The types of metamorphism are defined relative to the physical


conditions that are present during metamorphism.
Regional is most common in the continental crust and may occur over
tens of thousands of square kilometres. Regional metamorphism involves
high differential stress levels and a considerable amount of mechanical
deformation, along with chemical recrystallisation. Low grade, regional
metamorphism of shale or mudstone forms slate. The slaty cleavage
planes are formed perpendicular to the direction of maximum stress
during metamorphism. Regional metamorphism is a consequence of plate
tectonics.
Contact metamorphism occurs more locally adjacent to bodies or
intrusions of magma, due mainly to chemical recrysatallisation. The zone
affected is termed an aureole. Mechanical deformation tends to be minor
due to generally homogenous stresses around the magma intrusion.
Cataclastic, or dynamic, metamorphism may be found along faults where
tectonic movement leads to high differential stresses, and rock
deformation. The rocks may be fractured and ground almost to a paste
resulting in a pulverised texture. Cataclastic rocks are often found
alongside regionally metmorphosed rocks in narrow zones along fault
perimeters. These rocks often act as a major fluid barrier between rocks.
Burial metamorphism genarally occurs in deeply buried sedimentary
basin rocks where temperatures may be as high as 300 Celsius. The
presence of water within the sedimentary rock speeds up chemical
recrystallisation processes. As with contact metamorphism, there is little
mechanical deformation. The resultant rock may appear physically very
similar to the original sedimentary rock, but will differ in its mineral
content.
Hydrothermal metamorphism occurs due to chemical reactions between
fluids and heated rocks, and is often associated with mid ocean ridges.

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Figure 19 shows examples of the rock types formed during


metamorphism dependant on pressure and temperature zones, termed
facies.

Figure 19. Metamorphic Facies with Common Tectonic Settings


Superimposed. (From UNDERSTANDING EARTH by Frank Press and Raymond
Siever, 1998, 1994 W.H. Freeman and Company. Used with permission.)

Figure 20 illustrates the minerals present during metamorphosis of


shales. Quartz seen all way through, but changes in character. Muscovite
is an index for low and intermediate grade metamorphism, Biotite for
intermediate and Garnet for high grade metamorphosis.
Figure 21 illustrates areas of metamorphism related to plate tectonics.

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Figure 20. Metamorphism of Shales. (From THE DYNAMIC EARTH by B.J.


Skinner and S.C. Porter, copyright 2000 John Wiley and Sons. This material is used by
permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

Figure 21. Plate Tectonics and Metamorphosis Examples. (From


UNDERSTANDING EARTH by Frank Press and Raymond Siever, 1998, 1994 W.H.
Freeman and Company. Used with permission.)

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Summary
Figure 22 summarises rock types and Earth processes involved in their
development.

Figure 22. Interaction of the Water, Rock and Tectonic Cycles.


(From THE DYNAMIC EARTH by B.J. Skinner and S.C. Porter, copyright 2000 John
Wiley and Sons. This material is used by permission of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

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