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Glossary S-T



Loose particles of rock or mineral (sediment) that range in size from 0.0625 - 2.0 millimeters in diameter.


Sedimentary rock made mostly of sand-sized grains.


A type of potassium feldspar that forms only at high temperature. Common in potassium-rich volcanic rocks.


A cliff formed by faulting, erosion, or landslides. (=escarpment)


Metamorphic rock usually derived from fine-grained sedimentary rock such as shale. Individual minerals in schist have grown during metamorphism so that they are easily visible to the naked eye. Schists are named for their mineral constituents. For example, mica schist is conspicuously rich in mica such as biotite or muscovite.


Very bubbly (vesicular) basalt or andesite. Both scoria and pumice develop their bubbly textures when escaping gas is trapped as lava solidifies. Scoria is more dense and darker than pumice.

sea stack

Sea stacks are blocks of erosion-resistant rock isolated from the land by sea.


Loose, uncemented pieces of rock or minerals.


Refers to earthquakes.


Sedimentary rocks are formed from pre-existing rocks or pieces of once-living organisms. They form from deposits that accumulate on the Earth’s surface. Sedimentary rocks often have distinctive layering or bedding.


A family of silicate minerals rich in magnesium and water, derived from low-temperature alteration or metamorphism of the minerals in ultramafic rocks. Rocks made up of serpentine minerals are called serpentinite. Serpentine minerals are light to dark green, commonly varied in hue, and greasy looking; the mineral feels slippery.


Sedimentary rock derived from mud. Commonly finely laminated (bedded). Particles in shale are commonly clay minerals mixed with tiny grains of quartz eroded from pre-existing rocks. Shaley means like a shale or having some shale component, as in shaley sandstone.


Overland flow of water in thin sheets


Refers to the property of many clays to swell when wetted and shrink when dried.


An aluminum-rich silicate found only in metamorphic rocks that form at high temperature and pressure.


Silicon dioxide (SiO2). One of the most common compounds in the Earth’s crust. Common window glass is made of silica. The building block of the mineral quartz and other silicate minerals.


Refers to the chemical unit silicon tetroxide, SiO4, the fundamental building block of silicate minerals. Silicate minerals make up most rocks we see at the Earth’s surface.


Generally refers to a rock rich in quartz.


See dike.


Loose particles of rock or mineral (sediment) that range in size from 0.002 - 0.0625 millimeters in diameter. Silt is finer than sand, but coarser than clay.


A sedimentary rock made mostly of silt-sized grains.


A depression in the surface commonly found in in karst landscapes. Sinkholes often form where limestone or some other soluble rock is partially dissolved by groundwater, then collapses to form a depression. Sinkholes are often "bowl-shaped" and can be a few to many hundreds of meters in diameter. Also known as dolines.


A type of landslide in which a mass of rock breaks away along a curved surface and rotates more or less intact downslope. The sliding mass of rock is called a slump block.


Group of clays, those most susceptible to shrink-swell


All loose, unconsolidated earth and organic materials above bedrock that support plant growth.


The exploration and study of caves.


A deposit formed in caves when calcium carbonate (CaCO3) or some other mineral precipitates from drips or thin films of water. Stalactites and stalagmites are common speleothems.


A mineral deposit (speleothem) which hangs downwards from a roof or wall of a cave. See stalagmite.


A mineral deposit (speleothem) which projects upwards from a cave floor. See stalactite.

stitching pluton

Plutons of roughly the same age which that intruded several tectonic terranes after the terranes were faulted together. The plutons do not really "sew" the terranes together, but they help record when terranes were assembled.


Relatively small globular or columnar-shaped pluton. Like a batholith only smaller.

stope block

Stope blocks form when injection of intrusive igneous rock weakens the solid rock surrounding it, causing blocks to loosen and sink into the molten mass.


A relatively long-lived volcano built up of both lava flows and pyroclastic material.

stream capture

A process of erosion where one stream erodes headward, diverting some of another stream’s drainage into its own channel. Also called stream piracy.


A thin, discontinuous mineral vein or rock layer.


Process of one crustal plate sliding down and below another crustal plate as the two converge. The subduction zone is the area between the two plates, somewhat like a giant reverse fault.

submarine fan

Fan or cone-shaped accumulation of sedimentary debris--sand, gravel, mud--under the ocean along the edge of the land, either a continent or a volcanic arc. Fans may be a few miles to a hundred or so miles across.

surficial deposit

Any loose, unconsolidated sedimentary deposit lying on bedrock.




Magnesium silicate mineral, with water. Commonly called soapstone. Very soft and platy, like mica. Can be easily carved with a knife. Generally in very fine grained masses.


Small lake left by the retreat of a glacier. May fill a basin formed by a moraine dam or eroded by the glacier into bedrock.


Pile of rock rubble below a cliff or slope.


Pile of rock rubble below a cliff or chute. Talus slope is a common usage although it is redundant because the term "talus" actually includes the concept of a slope.

tectonically active

A term used to describe regions that are strongly affected by movement of Earth's tectonic plates. Earthquakes and volcanoes are common features in these regions.


General term for all sizes of particles ejected into the air during volcanic eruptions. Includes particles as tiny as volcanic ash and as large as bombs and blocks (= pyroclastics).


A long bench-like surface, often bordering a stream, lake, or sea.


Level or near-level area of land, generally above a river or ocean and separated from it by a steeper slope. A river terrace is made by the river at some time in the past when the river flowed at a higher level. It A terrace may be made of river deposits such as gravel or sand, or it could be cut by the river on bedrock. A glacial terrace or outwash terrace is similar but is formed by a stream or river from a glacier upstream.


A rock formation or assemblage of rock formations that share a common geologic history. A geologic terrane is distinguished from neighboring terranes by its different history, either in its formation or in its subsequent deformation and/or metamorphism. Terranes are separated by faults. An exotic terrane is one that has been transported into its present setting from some distance.

Tertiary Period

The earliest Period of the Cenozoic Era, beginning about 66.4 million years ago and ending 1.6 million years ago.

thermal aureole

Zone of rock around an igneous intrusion that has been altered or metamorphosed by heat from the hot magma. The rock in the zone is baked.


Unsorted, unstratified rock rubble or debris carried on and/or deposited by the ice of a glacier

thrust fault

See fault.

thrust plate

Slab of rock, generally on the scale of a mountain or more, bounded by two thrust faults.


Intrusive igneous rock made of plagioclase feldspar, quartz, and amphibole or biotite. May be similar to diorite but contains considerable quartz and is not as dark, and chemically has less calcium, iron and magnesium.


The shape of the land surface. See relief.


Trenches are deep, linear zones that form where an oceanic plate sinks (subducts) beneath another plate.


Volcanic rock made up of rock and mineral fragments in a volcanic ash matrix. Tuffs commonly are composed of much shattered volcanic rock glass--chilled magma blown into the air and then deposited. If volcanic particles fall to the ground at a very high temperature, they may fuse together, forming a welded tuff.

Rock types:
Igneous Rocks
Sedimentary Rocks
Metamorphic Rocks