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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other uses, see Superposition (disambiguation).
Stratigraphic column on north shore of Isfjord,Svalbard, Norway. Since there is no overturning, the rock at the bottom is older than the rock on the top by the Principle of Superposition.
The law of superposition (or the principle of superposition) is a key axiom based on observations of natural history that is a foundational principle of sedimentary stratigraphy and so of other geology dependent natural sciences:
Sedimentary layers are deposited in a time sequence, with the oldest on the bottom and the youngest on the top.
The law was formulated in the 17th century by the Danish scientist Nicolas Steno.
1 Development of the Law of Superposition 2 Application of the law of superposition 3 Superposition as modified by archaeological considerations 4 See also
5 Notes. Nicolas Steno reasoned that rock strata were formed when particles in a fluid such as water fell to the bottom. of the two bodies that one first became hard which. . One layer was formed first. in the mutual contact. These may be steep. and can be up to several degrees. must have formed after the surrounding rock was a solid. If a "tongue stone" had grown within a rock. because they often did show irregularities of form caused by having to conform to the surrounding solid rock. ´ Assuming that all rocks and minerals had once been fluid. and so on. which formed a partition between it and the next layer. Over each layer there spread a substance of different material. but when petrification took place something occurred to the partition which caused it to break up and disintegrate from between the layers (possibly referring to unconformity). then at a different period. Steno was able to show by this reasoning that fossils and crystals must have solidified before the host rock that contains them was formed. since we see that some mountains appear to have been piled up layer by layer. and it is therefore likely that the clay from which they were formed was itself at one time arranged in layers. in much the same way that a tree root is distorted by growing into a crack in the earth. more general principle in this way: ³ If a solid body is enclosed on all sides by another solid body. expresses on its own surface the properties of the other surface. This process would leave horizontal layers. and then have ebbed away from it. on the other hand.1 Notes 5. Instead. There are exceptions to this case. links and references o o 5...2 References Development of the Law of Superposition While discussing the origins of mountains in The Book of Healing in 1027. the latter not being sedimentary. . It is probable that the sedimentary clay was formed by the disintegration of the strata of mountains. it would have been distorted by the surrounding rock. the "tongue stone" must have been buried in soft sediments which hardened later. and any deviations from this horizontal position are due to the rocks being disturbed later. Such is the formation of mountains. . a further was formed and piled. locally. Veins (mineral-filled cracks) and many crystals. As to the beginning of the sea. Thus Steno's principle of original horizontality states that rock layers form in the horizontal position. ´ In other words: a solid object will cause any solids that form around it later to conform to its own shape. Nevertheless. Steno stated another.. the principle is essentially true. its clay is either sedimentary or primeval. because sediments may be deposited on slopes or gradients.. It is possible that each time the land was exposed by the ebbing of the sea a layer was left. upon the first. Avicenna first outlined the principle of the superposition of strata as follows: ³ It is also possible that the sea may have happened to flow little by little over the land consisting of both plain and mountain.
red Wingate Sandstone. or metamorphosed along the fault lines. Geologists now recognize that tilting. in principle. Utah.Finally. slope-forming. which determines their place in the layers. such anomalies leave physical evidence in the disturbed rocks. However. He reasoned that the formation of caves might remove part of a lower layer. by flow banding. or days apart. These strata make up much of the famous prominent rock formations in widely spaced protected areas such as Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park. layers on top of a set of strata conform to the shape of lower layers and. This is because the youngest layer was deposited after the oldest layers. However. not absolute time: two rock layers. Steno's law is a statement of relative time. Application of the law of superposition The Permian through Jurassic stratigraphy of the Colorado Plateau area of southeastern Utah is a great example of both Original Horozontality and the Law of Superposition. and white. such as volcanic rocks which spread on older flows. and faulting may also complicate the analysis of a stratigraphic sequence. broken. Since the oldest was deposited first it is on the bottom and vice versa. cliff-forming. also forming an exception to Steno's law. and that the collapse of a cave might transport large pieces of an upper layer downwards. and the oldest must lie on the bottom. in the case of strata. Picture fromGlen Canyon National Recreation Area. lighter-red Moenkopi Formation. layered. Molten rock may force its way through surrounding rocks and may sometimes squeeze between older rock layers. He recognized that rocks might be uplifted by subterranean forces. faulted rock layers may be cracked. Steno realized that other geological processes could create apparent exceptions to his laws of superposition and horizontality . purplishChinle Formation. layered Cutler Formation sandstone. vertically jointed. folding. it then follows that the youngest stratum is on the top of a sequence. From Steno's observation that rock strata form when particles fall out of suspension in a fluid. in a set of strata the youngest layers must be those of the top layer. this principle also applies to other types of rocks that do not form with water. From top to bottom: Rounded tan domes of the Navajo Sandstone. could form millions of years apart. . therefore. layered red Kayenta Formation. for example.
of the two major rock types in the Apennine Mountains near Florence. . on the Moine Thrust Fault. the lower layers had no fossils. Italy. This was the first use of geology to try to distinguish different time periods in the Earth's history ± an approach that would develop spectacularly in the work of later scientists. after the creation of life. Thrust faults were unknown to Steno and his contemporaries and were not described until the late 19th Century and early 20th century by Peach and Horne at Knockan Crag. he noticed that. while the lower ones had formed before life had existed. When combined with the related principle of faunal succession. Scotland. the law of superposition provides a very powerful tool for dating rocks and strata. older strata can overlay younger. thus creating situations where inexplicably.Steno himself saw no difficulty in attributing the formation of most rocks to the flood mentioned in the Bible. He suggested that the upper layers had formed in the flood. Thrust faults can cause confusion with the Law of Superposition because they occur parallel to bedding and can be difficult to detect. while the upper ones were rich in fossils. However.
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