Tectonic and Structural Geomorphology

Goals of the Topic

1. Examine the structure of the earth’s crust

2. Establish the mechanisms that drive uplift/subsidence of the earth’s surface
3. Examine the linkages between the uplift of mountains, the development of topographic relief, and climate 4. Examine a class of landforms that are controlled primarily by local structural geology and internal processes.

Structure of the Earth’s Crust





1200 km


outer upper lower

2300 km 2,900 km

Composition: Iron & nickle (NIFE); Temp is 1927°C Outer core: liquid which controls earth magnetic field Inner core: solid Convective currents
Composition: Silicate rocks rich in iron, magnesium, & olivine Mantle convection-plate tectonic processes

Structure of the Earth’s Crust
Layers Thickness Properties
Composition: felsic rocks: silica & alumina (SIAL) rocks, e.g. granite; density is 2.7 mafic rocks: silica, iron & magnesium rocks (SIMA), e.g. basalt; density is 3 The uppermost mantle together with the crust constitutes the lithosphere Floats on a semi-liquid layer known as the asthenosphere. Made of plates


5–10 km


35-70 km



Theory of Plate Tectonics
•The movement and interaction between crustal plates Background to the concept of plate tectonics 1.Wegner’s continental drift hypothesis 2. Sea floor spreading (Plate convergence and spreading) 3.Mantle convection cells

Continental Drift
•Concept proposed by Alfred Wegner (The origins of Continents and Oceans, 1937) to explain glacial history of the southern continents. • Supercontinent (200 million yrs) Pangaea. Separated into northern block (Laurasia) & Gondwanaland (southern hemisphere).

Continental Drift
Evidence •Wegner’s theory was based on the apparent ‘fit’ between S. America and Africa, • the similarity of rock formations on either side of the Atlantic, •Tropical fossils found in Antarctica.

Evidence of Continental Drift: Mantle convection
Convection is the process where heated fluid rises and cooled fluid falls. This establishes convection cells in the mantle. Spreading plates form at rising limbs of convection cells and convergent boundaries are formed by magma that has cooled after a trip to the surface.

Evidence of Continental Drift: Sea Floor Spreading

Arthur Holmes 1944, English geologist who suggested that, it was the sea floors that are moving & dragging the continents along with them abt 1 – 10cm/yr Cause by mantle convection – subduction
•Causing magnetic a reversal of the earth magnetic field •Widening the Atlantic Ocean •Earthquakes/fold mountain formation

Further evidence of Continental Drift: Earthquake distribution

Concentration of earthquakes along plate boundaries. J.P. Rothé (1954, Royal Society of London):

Modern Plate Tectonics

Surface of Earth is composed of moving internally rigid plates which separate at divergent zones (spreading) and meet at convergent zones (subduction and mountain building)

Expressions of Tectonics at Earth’s Surface: Mountain Formation • Tectonics provides the mechanisms for mega-scale mountain uplift, but at the scale of individual mountains or groups of mountains, there are distinctive expressions of tectonic activity that control land form.

• These expressions include faults and folds, which may have been altered by erosion since tectonic activity. • Another control on local scale landscape evolution is igneous activity which includes various types of volcanoes, lava flows, and intrusion of plutons that may be exposed at earth’s surface by erosion.

• Together, these expressions of tectonic activity enforce a first order control on the landscape at the local scale.

Fold Mountains: Types of Folds
anticline syncline overfold


Syncline and Anticlines

Fault Mountains: Types of faults
•Normal Fault - tension •Reverse/thrust Fault compression •Strike-slipe Fault – stress

Selby, Earth’s Changing Surface, 1985.

Fault Mountains: Types of faults



Fault Mountains: Types of faults

Fault Mountains: Types of faults

Reverse fault, Terlingua Creek, TX

Fault Mountains: Types of faults

Overthrust fault, Near Banff, AB

Fault Mountains: Horst and Grabens

Fault Mountains: Horst and Grabens

Fault Mountains: Horst and Grabens

Volcanism & Earthquakes
As geomorphologists, we are primarily interested in the shapes produced by volcanic activity at the earth’s surface.

Puu Oo, a type of spatter cone, Kilauea, Hawaii

Types of Surface Expression of Igneous Activity 1) Intrusive: igneous landforms exposed by erosion Intrusive: Magma rose within the crust and cooled is intrusive. Examples of intrusive landforms: • Batholiths, domes (laccoliths), dykes, sills

2) Extrusive: volcanic or depositional landforms • Extrusive: Magma that is forced to surface and cooled is extrusive. Examples of extrusive landforms: • Lava flows, ejecta, ash, volcanoes

Landforms of Igneous Intrusions

Phacolith is a lens-shaped mass of igneous rocks occupying the crest of an anticline/syncline being fed by a conduit from beneath

Types of extrusion 1. Lava flows – lavas 2. Pyroclastics - coarser volcanic materials

Lava flows

3. Ashflows – ashes/volcanic dust



Types of Lavas
Basic Lava •Highly fluid, very hot, dark rich in iron & magnesium but low in silica •Silent emissions of magma, fast flow (16 – 48 km/hr), forming gently sloping volcanoes (shield/dome shaped).

Types of Lavas
•Acidic Lavas •Highly viscous, light in colour, low density & high silica content •Violent emissions of magma, slow flow, steep-sided mountains

Types of extrusion

Most extrusions are some combination of all three types of flow

Pyroclastic flows descend the south-eastern flank of Mayon Volcano, Philippines

Characteristics of the magma 1. Composition of magma: silica content controls the viscosity of the magma and, consequently, its ability to plug up vents. Basalt 50% SiO2 (basic lava); Andesitic 60% SiO2; Rhyolitic 70% SiO2 (acidic lava)

2. Magma Temperature: also controls viscosity and likelihood that lava will flow. Melting point of Basalt is 1100°C. Melting point of Rhyolite is 650-700°C. 3. Gas Content: controls explosiveness and, ultimately, deposition patterns and flow types

Types of Volcanoes
Active – frequent eruptions

Dormant – occasional eruptions with signs of future occurrences
Extinct – not experience eruptions in historic times

•Cause by moving plates (Plate Tectonics) •Plates rub against each other in some places (like the San Andreas Fault in California) – striking. •Sink beneath each other in others (like the Peru-Chile Trench along the western border of South America) – subduction •spread apart from each other (like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge). •At such places the motion isn't smooth- the plates are stuck together at the edges but the rest of each plate is continuing to move, so the rocks along the edges are distorted (what we call "strain"). As the motion continues, the strain builds up to the point where the rock cannot withstand any more bending. With a lurch, the rock breaks and the two sides move.

•The energy that is transmitted in the form of vibrations when the rocks break - earthquake.

•The point at which the shock emanates - origin/focus •The point on the earth’s surface directly above the focus – epicentre •Seimograph – Richter scale