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Structural Geology

Structural controls on mineralization are evident in almost every type of ore

deposit. It is therefore important to recognize different types of structural
features which are present in rocks, and how the development of these
structures can influence ore deposition either directly or indirectly. Natural
forces, such as heat and pressure, can occur on any scale, large or small.
The same forces can cause deformation of the rocks, which includes:


folding: bending of the rocks

faulting: fracturing and displacement
shearing: sliding parallel to the plane of contact between two rocks
compression: colliding together of two rocks
extension: separating, or increasing the distance between two rocks

Folds result from plastic deformation, ie, deformation which does not rupture
or fracture the rocks, but instead causes them to permanently bend. Plastic
deformation most often occurs well below the earths surface, where
conditions of high heat and pressure allow the rocks to behave in this
manner. Folds are easiest to recognize in sedimentary or metamorphic rocks
where some type of layering or fabric is discernable. Every fold has the
following components (Figure 10 2):

axial plane: the imaginary plane which divides the fold in half as
symmetrically as possible.
fold axis: the line formed where the axial plane intersects a folded rock
layer (line a b).
fold limbs: the two segments of the fold on each side of the axial

Figure 10 2. Fold axis, axial plane, and fold limbs.

Folds which have both limbs dipping away from the fold axis are called
anticlines; folds which have both limbs dipping towards the fold axis are called
synclines (Figure 10 3). When an anticline is uplifted and eroded, older
rocks are exposed near the fold axis and younger rocks are exposed away
from the axis. When a syncline is uplifted and eroded, younger rocks are
exposed near the fold axis and older rocks are exposed away from the axis
Each type of fold can be further classified by the relationship of the axial plane
to the limbs. For example, observe the four types of anticlines shown in
Figure 10 4:

symmetrical anticline: limbs form a mirror image of each other.

asymmetrical anticline: one limb dips steeper than the other.
overturned anticline: both limbs dip the same direction.
recumbent anticline: both limbs are nearly horizontal.

Figure 10 4. Types of anticlines.

The same terminology and geometry of fold axes shown in Figure 10 4 also
applies to synclines.
Folding of Ductile Rocks
When rocks deform in a ductile manner, instead of fracturing to form faults, they may bend or
fold, and the resulting structures are called folds. Folds result from compressional stresses
acting over considerable time. Because the strain rate is low, rocks that we normally consider
brittle can behave in a ductile manner resulting in such folds.
We recognize several different kinds of folds.
Monoclines are the simplest types of folds. Monoclines occur when horizontal strata are bent
upward so that the two limbs of the fold are still horizontal.

Anticlines are folds where the originally horizontal strata has been folded upward, and the two
limbs of the fold dip away from the hinge of the fold.

Synclines are folds where the originally horizontal strata have been folded downward, and the
two limbs of the fold dip inward toward the hinge of the fold. Synclines and anticlines usually
occur together such that the limb of a syncline is also the limb of an anticline.

Geometry of Folds - Folds are described by their form and orientation. The sides of a
fold are called limbs. The limbs intersect at the tightest part of the fold, called the
hinge. A line connecting all points on the hinge is called the fold axis. In the diagrams
above, the fold axes are horizontal, but if the fold axis is not horizontal the fold is called
a plunging fold and the angle that the fold axis makes with a horizontal line is called
the plunge of the fold. An imaginary plane that includes the fold axis and divides the
fold as symmetrically as possible is called the axial plane of the fold.

Note that if a plunging fold intersects a horizontal surface, we will see the pattern of the fold on

the surface.

Classification of Folds

Folds can be classified based on their appearance.


If the two limbs of the fold dip away from the axis with the same angle, the fold
is said to be a symmetrical fold.

If the limbs dip at different angles, the folds are said to be asymmetrical folds.

If the compressional stresses that cause the folding are intense, the fold can
close up and have limbs that are parallel to each other. Such a fold is called an
isoclinal fold (iso means same, and cline means angle, so isoclinal means the
limbs have the same angle). Note the isoclinal fold depicted in the diagram
below is also a symmetrical fold.

If the folding is so intense that the strata on one limb of the fold becomes nearly
upside down, the fold is called an overturned fold.

An overturned fold with an axial plane that is nearly horizontal is called a

recumbant fold.

A fold that has no curvature in its hinge and straight-sided limbs that form a
zigzag pattern is called a chevron fold.

Faults are breaks in rocks where slippage occurs. The surface where the
slippage occurs is called the fault plane. The fault plane can form at any
geometric orientation from horizontal to vertical. The orientation of the fault
plane is defined by measuring the strike and dip, just as with any other planar
feature in rocks. If the fault plane is vertical, the fault is called a vertical fault.
The relative motion which can occur includes:

dip slip: the relative motion of blocks on each side of the fault plane is
parallel to the dip of the fault plane.
strike slip: the relative motion of blocks on each side of the fault plane
is parallel to the strike of the fault plane.
oblique slip: the relative motion of blocks on each side of the fault
plane is oblique, ie, displacement is at anoblique angle to both the dip
and the strike of the fault plane.

Dip slip faults which dip less than 90 degrees are further defined by the
relative displacement of the blocks on each side of the fault plane. The block
of rock which occurs above the fault plane is called the hanging wall. The
block which occurs below the fault plane is called the footwall (Figure 10

normal fault: the hanging wall moves down relative to the footwall.
reverse fault: the hanging wall moves up relative to the footwall.
thrust fault: special type of reverse fault in which the fault plane dips at
a low angle.

Strike slip faults typically have near vertical fault planes, and since the
displacement is parallel to the strike of the fault plane, there generally is no
hanging wall or foot wall. Strike slip faults are defined by the relative motion
of the block on the opposite side of the fault from the point of observation. For
example, if the relative motion on the opposite side of the fault is to the left, it
is called a left-lateral strike slip fault. If the relative motion on the opposite
side of the fault is to the right, it is called a right-lateral strike slip fault (Figure
10 5).

Faults - Faults occur when brittle rocks fracture and there is an offset along the fracture. When
the offset is small, the displacement can be easily measured, but sometimes the displacement is
so large that it is difficult to measure.
Types of Faults
Faults can be divided into several different types depending on the direction of relative
displacement. Since faults are planar features, the concept of strike and dip also applies, and
thus the strike and dip of a fault plane can be measured. One division of faults is between dipslip faults, where the displacement is measured along the dip direction of the fault, and strikeslip faults where the displacement is horizontal, parallel to the strike of the fault.

Dip Slip Faults - Dip slip faults are faults that have an inclined fault plane and along
which the relative displacement or offset has occurred along the dip direction. Note that
in looking at the displacement on any fault we don't know which side actually moved or
if both sides moved, all we can determine is the relative sense of motion.
For any inclined fault plane we define the block above the fault as the hanging wall
block and the block below the fault as the footwall block.

Normal Faults - are faults that result from horizontal tensional stresses in brittle
rocks and where the hanging-wall block has moved down relative to the
footwall block.

Horsts & Gabens - Due to the tensional stress responsible for normal faults, they often occur in
a series, with adjacent faults dipping in opposite directions. In such a case the down-dropped
blocks form grabens and the uplifted blocks form horsts. In areas where tensional stress has
recently affected the crust, the grabens may form rift valleys and the uplifted horst blocks may
form linear mountain ranges. The East African Rift Valley is an example of an area where
continental extension has created such a rift. The basin and range province of the western U.S.
(Nevada, Utah, and Idaho) is also an area that has recently undergone crustal extension. In the
basin and range, the basins are elongated grabens that now form valleys, and the ranges are
uplifted horst blocks.

Reverse Faults - are faults that result from horizontal compressional stresses in
brittle rocks, where the hanging-wall block has moved up relative the footwall

A Thrust Fault is a special case of a reverse fault where the dip of the fault is less than
15o. Thrust faults can have considerable displacement, measuring hundreds of
kilometers, and can result in older strata overlying younger strata.

Strike Slip Faults - are faults where the relative motion on the fault has taken place
along a horizontal direction. Such faults result from shear stresses acting in the crust.
Strike slip faults can be of two varieties, depending on the sense of displacement. To an
observer standing on one side of the fault and looking across the fault, if the block on
the other side has moved to the left, we say that the fault is a left-lateral strike-slip
fault. If the block on the other side has moved to the right, we say that the fault is a
right-lateral strike-slip fault. The famous San Andreas Fault in California is an
example of a right-lateral strike-slip fault. Displacements on the San Andreas fault are
estimated at over 600 km.

Transform-Faults are a special class of strike-slip faults. These are plate boundaries along
which two plates slide past one another in a horizontal manner. The most common type of
transform faults occur where oceanic ridges are offset. Note that the transform fault only occurs
between the two segments of the ridge. Outside of this area there is no relative movement
because blocks are moving in the same direction. These areas are called fracture zones. The
San Andreas fault in California is also a transform fault.

Surfaces of Unconformity
Surfaces of unconformity mark temporal gaps in the geologic record and
commonly result from periods of uplift and erosion. Such uplift and erosion is
commonly caused during the terminal phase of regional mountain-building episodes.
As correctly interpreted by James Hutton at the now-famous surface of unconformity
exposed in the cliff face of the River Jed (Figure 5), such surfaces represent
mysterious intervals of geologic time where the local evidence contains no clues as to
what went on there. By looking elsewhere, the effects of a surface of unconformity of
regional extent can be recognized and piecemeal explanations of evidence for filling
in the missing interval may be found.

Figure 5 - Unconformity with basal conglomerate along the River Jed, south of
Edinburgh, Scotland. From James Hutton's "Theory of the Earth", (1795).

Unconformities occur in three basic erosional varieties - angular

unconformities, nonconformities, and disconformities (Figure 6). Angular
unconformities (such as the River Jed) truncate dipping strata below the surface of
unconformity and thus exhibit angular discordance at the erosion surface.
Nonconformities separate sedimentary strata above the erosion surface from eroded
igneous- or metamorphic rocks below. Disconformities are the most-subtle variety,
separating subparallel sedimentary strata. They are commonly identified by
paleontologic means, by the presence of channels cut into the underlying strata, or by
clasts of the underlying strata in their basal part. The strata above a surface of
unconformity may or may not include clasts of the underlying strata in the form of a
coarse-grained, often bouldery basal facies.

Figure 6 - Various types of unconformities, or gaps in the geologic record. Drawings

by Rhodes W. Fairbridge.

Following the proposal made in 1963 by L. L. Sloss, surfaces of unconformity

of regional extent within a craton are used as boundaries to define Stratigraphic

Sedimentary Structures
During deposition in a variety of environments, primary- and secondary
sedimentary structures can develop above-, below-, and within strata. During normal
deposition, or settling from a fluid in a rainfall of particles, massive, essentially poorly
stratified successions may result. The presence of strata implies a change in
deposition and as a result most geologists appreciate the significance of layering in
sedimentary rocks as marking CHANGE in big letters, be it a change in parent area
of the sediment, particle size, or style of deposition. Thus, bedding can best be
viewed as marking the presence of mini-surfaces of unconformity (diastems). During
high-energy transport of particles, features such as cross beds, hummocky strata,
asymmetric current ripple marks, or graded beds result. Cross- and hummocky

bedding, and asymmetric current ripple marks are deposited by moving currents and
help us unravel the paleocurrent directions during their formation. Graded beds result
from a kind of a "lump-sum distribution" of a wide range of particles all at once
(usually in a gravity-induced turbidity flow). Thus, graded beds show larger particle
sizes at the base of a particular layer "grading" upward into finer particles.
Secondary sedimentary features are developed on already deposited strata and
include mud (or desiccation) cracks, rain- drop impressions, sole marks, loadflow structures, flame structures, and rip-up clasts. The last three categorize
effects produced by a moving body of sediment on strata already in place below. A
composite diagram illustrating these common structures is reproduced in Figure 7.
Together, these primary- and secondary sedimentary structures help the softrock structural geologist unravel the oft-asked field questions - namely.... Which way
is up? and Which way to the package store? The direction of younging of the strata
seems obvious in horizontal- or gently tilted strata using Steno's principle of
superposition. But steeply tilted-, vertical-, or overturned beds can be confidently
unravelled and interpreted structurally only after the true topping (stratigraphic
younging) direction has been determined. As we may be able to demonstrate on this
field trip, simple observations allow the card-carrying geologist to know "Which way
is up" at all times.

Structures in Sedimentary- vs. Metamorphic Rocks

For hard-rock geologists working in metamorphic terranes, simple
sedimentary observations will not allow the card-carrying geologist to know "Which
way is up" at all. Rather, because of intense transposition and flow during ductile
deformation, stratification, fossils for age dating, tops and current-direction indicators
are largely useless except to identify their hosts as sedimentary protoliths. Thus,
according to CM, "at the outcrop scale, metamorphism can best be viewed as the
great homogenizer." Commonly during metamorphism, the increase in temperature
and -pressure and presence of chemically active fluids severely alter the mineral
compositions and textures of pre-existing rocks. As a result, in many instances,
typical soft-rock stratigraphic- and sedimentologic analysis of metamorphic rocks is
not possible.

Figure 7 - Diagrammatic sketches of primary sedimentary structures (a through e)

and cross sections of pillows (f) used in determining topping (younging) directions in