Basement (geology)

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Gneiss outcrop, basement rock, Scotland Gneissoutcroprona.jpg
Gneiss outcrop, basement rock, Scotland

In geology, basement and crystalline basement are the rocks below a sedimentary platform or cover, or more generally any rock below sedimentary rocks or sedimentary basins that are metamorphic or igneous in origin. [1] In the same way, the sediments or sedimentary rocks on top of the basement can be called a "cover" or "sedimentary cover".


Continental crust

Basement rock is the thick foundation of ancient, and oldest, metamorphic and igneous rock that forms the crust of continents, often in the form of granite. [2] Basement rock is contrasted to overlying sedimentary rocks which are laid down on top of the basement rocks after the continent was formed, such as sandstone and limestone. The sedimentary rocks which may be deposited on top of the basement usually form a relatively thin veneer, but can be more than 3 miles thick. The basement rock of the crust can be 20–30 miles thick, or more. The basement rock can be located under layers of sedimentary rock, or be visible at the surface.

Basement rock is visible, for example, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, consisting of 1.7-2 billion year old granite (Zoroaster Granite) and schist (Vishnu Schist). The Vishnu Schist is believed to be highly metamorphosed igneous rocks and shale, from basalt, mud and clay laid from volcanic eruptions, and the granite is the result of magma intrusions into the Vishnu Schist. An extensive cross section of sedimentary rocks laid down on top of it through the ages is visible as well.


The basement rocks of the continental crust tend to be much older than the oceanic crust. The oceanic crust can be from 0-250 million years in age, and is usually thinner (10 miles or so) and composed of basaltic rocks. Continental crust is older because continental crust is light and thick enough so it is not subducted, while oceanic crust is periodically subducted and replaced at subduction and oceanic rifting areas.


The basement rocks are often highly metamorphosed and complex. They may consist of many different types of rock - volcanic, intrusive igneous and metamorphic. They may also contain fragments of oceanic crust that became wedged between plates when a terrane was accreted to the edge of the continent. Any of this material may be folded, refolded and metamorphosed. New igneous rock may freshly intrude into the crust from underneath, or may form underplating, where the new igneous rock forms a layer on the underside of the crust. It is said that the majority of continental crust on the planet is around 1-3 billion years old, and it is theorised that there was at least one period of rapid expansion and accretion to the continents during the Precambrian.

Much of the basement rock may have originally been oceanic crust, but it was highly metamorphosed and converted into continental crust via a series of events. A typical pattern is as follows. It is possible for oceanic crust to be subducted down into the Earth's mantle, at subduction fronts, where oceanic crust is being pushed down into the mantle by an overriding plate of oceanic or continental crust.


When a plate of oceanic crust is subducted beneath an overriding plate of oceanic crust, as the underthrusting crust melts, it can cause upwelling of magma that can cause volcanism along the subduction front on the overriding plate. This produces an oceanic chain of volcanoes, like Japan. This volcanism causes metamorphism of rocks, intrusions of magma that produce rocks such as granite, and thickens the crust by depositing additional layers of rock from volcanoes. This tends to make the crust lighter and thicker, as a result making it immune to subduction. [3]

Oceanic crust can be subducted, while continental crust cannot. Eventually, the subduction of the underthrusting oceanic crust can bring the volcano chain close to a continent, and collide with it. When the overriding plate collides with the continent, instead of being subducted, it is accreted to the edge of the continent and becomes a part of that continent. Thin strips or fragments of the underthrusting plate may also remain attached to the edge of the continent causing those fragments of oceanic crust to be wedged and tilted between the converging plates. In this manner, continents can grow over time as new terranes are accreted to their edges, and so continents can be composed of a complex quilt of terranes of varying ages.

As such, the basement rock can become younger going closer to the edge of the continent. There are exceptions of however, such as exotic terranes. Exotic terranes are pieces or fragments of other continents that have broken off their original parent continent and have become accreted to a different continent.


Many continents can consist of several continental cratons - blocks of crust built around an initial original core of continents - that gradually grew and expanded as additional newly created terranes were added to their edges. For instance, Pangea consisted of most of the Earth's continents being accreted into one giant supercontinent. Most continents, such as Asia, Africa and Europe, include several continental cratons, as they were formed by the accretion of many smaller continents.


In European geology, the basement generally refers to rocks older than the Variscan orogeny. On top of this older basement Permian evaporites and Mesozoic limestones were deposited. The evaporites formed a weak zone on which the harder (stronger) limestone cover was able to move over the hard basement, making the distinction between basement and cover even more pronounced.[ citation needed ]

In Andean geology the basement refers to the Proterozoic, Paleozoic and early Mesozoic (Triassic to Jurassic) rock units as the basement to the late Mesozoic and Cenozoic Andean sequences developed following the onset of subduction along the western margin of the South American Plate. [4]

When discussing the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt of Mexico the basement include Proterozoic, Paleozoic and Mesozoic age rocks for the Oaxaquia, the Mixteco and the Guerrero terranes respectively. [5]

The term basement is used mostly in disciplines of geology like basin geology, sedimentology and petroleum geology in which the (typically Precambrian) crystalline basement is not of interest as it rarely contains petroleum or natural gas. [6] The term economic basement is also used to describe the deeper parts of a cover sequence that are of no economic interest. [7]

See also

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Vishnu Basement Rocks lithostratigraphic unit

The Vishnu Basement Rocks is the name recommended for all Early Proterozoic crystalline rocks exposed in the Grand Canyon region. They form the crystalline basement rocks that underlie the Bass Limestone of the Unkar Group of the Grand Canyon Supergroup and the Tapeats Sandstone of the Tonto Group. These basement rocks have also been called either the Vishnu Complex or Vishnu Metamorphic Complex. These Early Proterozoic crystalline rocks consist of metamorphic rocks that are collectively known as the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite; sections of the Vishnu Basement Rocks contain Early Paleoproterozoic granite, granitic pegmatite, aplite, and granodiorite that have intruded these metamorphic rocks, and also, intrusive Early Paleoproterozoic ultramafic rocks.

High pressure metamorphic terranes along the Bangong-Nujiang Suture Zone

High pressure terranes along the ~1200 km long east-west trending Bangong-Nujiang suture zone (BNS) on the Tibetan Plateau have been extensively mapped and studied. Understanding the geodynamic processes in which these terranes are created is key to understanding the development and subsequent deformation of the BNS and Eurasian deformation as a whole.

Lhasa terrane A fragment of crustal material, sutured to the Eurasian Plate during the Cretaceous that forms present-day southern Tibet

The Lhasa terrane is a terrane, or fragment of crustal material, sutured to the Eurasian Plate during the Cretaceous that forms present-day southern Tibet. It takes its name from the city of Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region, China. The northern part may have originated in the East African Orogeny, while the southern part appears to have once been part of Australia. The two parts joined, were later attached to Asia, and then were impacted by the collision of the Indian Plate that formed the Himalayas.

Huangling Complex

Huangling Complex represents a group of rock units appear in the middle of Yangtze Block in South China, distributed across Yixingshan, Zigui, Huangling and Yichang counties. The group of rock involves nonconformity that sedimentary rocks overlie the metamorphic basement. It is a 73-km long, asymmetrical dome-shaped anticline with axial plane orientating in north-south direction. It has a steeper west flank and a gentler east flank. Basically, there are three tectonic units from the anticline core to the rim, including Archean to Paleoproterozoic metamorphic basement, Neoproterozoic to Jurassic sedimentary rocks and Cretaceous fluvial deposit sedimentary cover. The northern part of the core is mainly tonalite-trondhjemite-gneiss (TTG) and Cretaceous sedimentary rock, it is called the Archean Kongling Complex. The middle of the core is mainly the Neoproterozoic granitoid. The southern part of the core is the Neoproterozoic potassium granite. Two basins are situated on the western and eastern flanks of the core respectively, including the Zigui basin and Dangyang basin. Both basins are synforms while Zigui basin has a larger extent of folding. Yuanan Graben and Jingmen Graben are found within Dangyang Basin area. Huangling Complex is an important area that helps unravel the tectonic history of South China Craton because it has well-exposed layers of rock units from Archean basement rock to Cretaceous sedimentary rock cover due to the erosion of the anticline.

The geology of Somalia is built on more than 700 million year old igneous and metamorphic crystalline basement rock, which outcrops at some places in northern Somalia. These ancient units are covered in thick layers of sedimentary rock formed in the last 200 million years and influenced by the rifting apart of the Somali Plate and the Arabian Plate. The geology of Somaliland, the de facto independent country in northern Somalia, is to some degree better studied than that of Somalia as a whole. Instability related to the Somali Civil War and previous political upheaval has limited geologic research in places while heightening the importance of groundwater resources for vulnerable populations.

The geology of Alaska includes Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks formed in offshore terranes and added to the western margin of North America from the Paleozoic through modern times. The region was submerged for much of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic and formed extensive oil and gas reserves due to tectonic activity in the Arctic Ocean. Alaska was largely ice free during the Pleistocene, allowing humans to migrate into the Americas.

The geology of Nevada began to form in the Proterozoic at the western margin of North America. Terranes accreted to the continent as a marine environment dominated the area through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic periods. Intense volcanism, the horst and graben landscape of the Basin and Range Province originating from the Farallon Plate, and both glaciers and valley lakes have played important roles in the region throughout the past 66 million years.

The geology of Ecuador includes ancient Precambrian basement rock and a complex tectonic assembly of new sections of crust from formerly separate landmasses, often uplifted as the Andes or transformed into basins.

Western Block of North China Craton

The Western Block of the North China Craton is an ancient micro-continental block mainly composed of Neoarchean and Paleoproterozoic rock basement, with some parts overlain by Cambrian to Cenozoic volcanic and sedimentary rocks. It is one of two sub-blocks within the North China Craton, located in east-central China. The boundaries of the Western Block are slightly different among distinct models, but the shapes and areas are similar. There is a broad consensus that the Western Block covers a large part of the east-central China.


  1. "Definition of Basement Rocks". Mindat.Org. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  2. "Bedrock |". Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  3. "Volcanism | geology". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  4. Teresa Moreno, et al., The geology of Chile, Geological Society of London, 2007, Ch. 2 Metamorphic and Igneous Basement Complexes, p. 5, ISBN   978-1-86239-220-5
  5. A. Gómez-Tuena, Ma.T. Orozco-Esquivel, and L. Ferrari Igneous petrogenesis of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, Ch 5, in Susana A. Alaniz-Álvarez and Angel F. Nieto-Samaniego, eds., Geology of México, Geological Society of America Special Paper 422, 2007, p.142 - 145 ISBN   978-0-8137-2422-5
  6. Gay, Parker (2002) Mapping Geologic Structure of Basement and Role of Basement in Hydrocarbon Entrapment, Search and Discovery Article #40052 (adapted from: AAPG Explorer (November and December, 1999)
  7. Mulhadiano J.A.S. (1984). "The Determination of Economic Basement of Rock Formation in Exploring the Langkat–Medan Area, North Sumatra Basin". AAPG: 75–107. Retrieved 2019-04-09.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)