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An unconformity is a contact between two rock units in

which the upper unit is usually much younger than the
lower unit. Unconformities are typically buried erosional
surfaces that can represent a break in the geologic record
of hundreds of millions of years or more. For example, the
contact between a 400-million-year-old sandstone that was
deposited by a rising sea on a weathered bedrock surface
that is 600 million years old is an unconformity that
represents a time hiatus of during that 200-million-year
span was eroded away, leaving the basement 200 million
years. The sediment and/or rock that was deposited
directly on the bedrock surface exposed. There are three
kinds of unconformities: disconformities, nonconformities,
and angular unconformities.

Animation Unconformity

Unconformities: Recognizing whats not there

Up to this point we have only discussed conformable strata,
that is strata that is deposited in nearly continuous fashion
through time. Although bedding planes may record small
breaks in deposition lasting a few minutes to thousands of
years, these time frames are inconsequential when viewed
relative to Earth time. In many areas, however, bedding planes
may represent much longer intervals of time--on the order of
millions of years. In these cases the rock on top of the bedding
plane is much younger than the rock below; this boundary
an unconformity:
long periods
of nondeposition
Since the amount
of material eroded
is a function
of rock
environmental factors the amount of time
represented by an unconformity does not necessarily
correspond to the length of time during which the
unconformity formed.

In other words, erosion occurring over the course of a million years

may erode hundreds of millions of years deposition. Because of
these processes we must understand that the geologic record is not
a complete record of all events and conditions experienced on
Earth. Furthermore a complete record of events in one location may
need to be inferred from rock preserved in other nearby locations.
Unconformities are categorized based on the rock types they affect
as well as the orientation of layers above and below the
A paraconformity is an unconformity that separate
younger sedimentary rock from much older sedimentary
rock both of which are parallel to the unconformity.
Because layers above and below the disconformity are
parrallel--just like all other bedding planes--disconformities
may be difficult to recognize purely through visual
observations. These types of unconformities may only be
recognized only after the use of fossils or absolute dating
techniques are used to date the sediments.

Similar to a paraconformity, a disconformity also separates

younger sedimentary rock from much older sedimentary rock
however, unlike a paraconformity there is a clear erosional
surface present between the older and younger beds.
An unconformity that cuts into an igneous or metamorphic
body and which is overlain by sedimentary rock is called a
nonconformity. Nonconformities form only after
metamorphic or igneous rock is exposed at the surface and
allowed to be buried by younger sediments.
Finally, an angular unconformity is produced when
sedimentary rock is deposited on tilted or angled beds.
Angular unconformities form after beds that have been
deformed through oregenic (mountain building) proccesses
have been eroded horizontal allowing new sediment to be
deposited on top of the much older tilted strata.

Image showing the various types of


Angular unconformities. An angular unconformity (Figure

is the contact that separates a younger, gently dipping rock unit
from older underlying rocks that are tilted or deformed layered
rock. The contact is more obvious than a disconformity because
the rock units are not parallel and at first appear cross-cutting.
Angular unconformities generally represent a longer time hiatus
than do disconformities because the underlying rock had usually
been metamorphosed, uplifted, and eroded before the upper rock
unit was deposited.

Disconformities. Disconformities (Figure 1 ) are usually erosional

contacts that are parallel to the bedding planes of the upper and
lower rock units. Since disconformities are hard to recognize in a
layered sedimentary rock sequence, they are often discovered when
the fossils in the upper and lower rock units are studied. A gap in the
fossil record indicates a gap in the depositional record, and the
length of time the disconformity represents can be calculated.
Disconformities are usually a result of erosion but can occasionally
represent periods of nondeposition.

Nonconformities. A nonconformity (Figure 2 )

is the contact that separates a younger sedimentary rock unit
from an igneous intrusive rock or metamorphic rock unit. A
nonconformity suggests that a period of long-term uplift,
weathering, and erosion occurred to expose the older, deeper
rock at the surface before it was finally buried by the younger
rocks above it. A nonconformity is the old erosional surface on
the underlying rock.