Conglomerate (geology)

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Sedimentary rock
Lehigh conglom.jpg
Boulder of conglomerate with cobble-sized clasts. Rock hammer for scale.
Carmelo Formation (conglomerate) at Point Lobos Carmelo Formation at Point Lobos.jpg
Carmelo Formation (conglomerate) at Point Lobos

Conglomerate ( /kənˈɡlɒmərɪt/ ) is a clastic sedimentary rock that is composed of a substantial fraction of rounded to subangular gravel-size clasts. A conglomerate typically contain a matrix of finer-grained sediments, such as sand, silt, or clay, which fills the interstices between the clasts. The clasts and matrix are typically cemented by calcium carbonate, iron oxide, silica, or hardened clay.


Conglomerates form by the consolidation and lithification of gravel. They can be found in sedimentary rock sequences of all ages but probably make up less than 1 percent by weight of all sedimentary rocks. In terms of origin and depositional mechanisms, they are closely related to sandstones and exhibit many of the same types of sedimentary structures, e.g., tabular and trough cross-bedding and graded bedding. [1] [2] [3]

Fanglomerates are poorly sorted, matrix-rich conglomerates that originated as debris flows on alluvial fans and likely contain the largest accumulations of gravel in the geologic record. [4]

Classification of conglomerates

Conglomerates may be named and classified by the:

The classification method depends on the type and detail of research being conducted. [1] [2] [5]

A sedimentary rock composed largely of gravel is first named according to the roundness of the gravel. If the gravel clasts that comprise it are largely well-rounded to subrounded, it is a conglomerate. If the gravel clasts that comprise it are largely angular, it is a breccia. Such breccias can be called sedimentary breccias to differentiate them from other types of breccia, e.g. volcanic and fault breccias. Sedimentary rocks that contain a mixture of rounded and angular gravel clasts are sometimes called breccio-conglomerate. [2] [5]


Conglomerates contain at least 30% of rounded to subangular clasts larger than 2 mm (0.079 in) in diameter, e.g., granules, pebbles, cobbles, and boulders. However, conglomerates are rarely composed entirely of gravel-size clasts. Typically, the space between the gravel-size clasts is filled by a mixture composed of varying amounts of silt, sand, and clay, known as matrix. If the individual gravel clasts in a conglomerate are separated from each other by an abundance of matrix such that they are not in contact with each other and float within the matrix, it is called a paraconglomerate. Paraconglomerates are also often unstratified and can contain more matrix than gravel clasts. If the gravel clasts of a conglomerate are in contact with each other, it is called an orthoconglomerate. Unlike paraconglomerates, orthoconglomerates are typically cross-bedded and often well-cemented and lithified by either calcite, hematite, quartz, or clay. [1] [2] [5]

The differences between paraconglomerates and orthoconglomerates reflect differences in how they are deposited. Paraconglomerates are commonly either glacial tills or debris flow deposits. Orthoconglomerates are typically associated with aqueous currents. [1] [2] [5]

A conglomerate at the base of the Cambrian in the Black Hills, South Dakota. CambrianConglomerate.jpg
A conglomerate at the base of the Cambrian in the Black Hills, South Dakota.
Section of polymict conglomerate from offshore rock core, Alaska, approximate depth 10,000 ft. Conglomerate core section.jpg
Section of polymict conglomerate from offshore rock core, Alaska, approximate depth 10,000 ft.

Clast composition

Conglomerates are also classified according to the composition of their clasts. A conglomerate or any clastic sedimentary rock that consists of a single rock or mineral is known as either a monomict, monomictic, oligomict, or oligomictic conglomerate. If the conglomerate consists of two or more different types of rocks, minerals, or combination of both, it is known as either a polymict or polymictic conglomerate. If a polymictic conglomerate contains an assortment of the clasts of metastable and unstable rocks and minerals, it is called either a petromict or petromictic conglomerate. [2] [3] [6]

In addition, conglomerates are classified by source as indicated by the lithology of the gravel-size clasts If these clasts consist of rocks and minerals that are significantly different in lithology from the enclosing matrix and, thus, older and derived from outside the basin of deposition, the conglomerate is known as an extraformational conglomerate. If these clasts consist of rocks and minerals that are identical to or consistent with the lithology of the enclosing matrix and, thus, penecontemporaneous and derived from within the basin of deposition, the conglomerate is known as an intraformational conglomerate. [2] [3] [6]

Two recognized types of intraformational conglomerates are shale-pebble and flat-pebble conglomerates. [6] A shale-pebble conglomerate is a conglomerate that is composed largely of clasts of rounded mud chips and pebbles held together by clay minerals and created by erosion within environments such as within a river channel or along a lake margin. [7] Flat-pebble conglomerates (edgewise conglomerates) are conglomerates that consist of relatively flat clasts of lime mud created by either storms or tsunami eroding a shallow sea bottom or tidal currents eroding tidal flats along a shoreline. [8]

Clast size

Finally, conglomerates are often differentiated and named according to the dominant clast size comprising them. In this classification, a conglomerate composed largely of granule-size clasts would be called a granule conglomerate; a conglomerate composed largely of pebble-size clasts would be called a pebble conglomerate; and a conglomerate composed largely of cobble-size clasts would be called a cobble conglomerate. [5] [6]

Sedimentary environments

Conglomerates are deposited in a variety of sedimentary environments.

Deepwater marine

In turbidites, the basal part of a bed is typically coarse-grained and sometimes conglomeratic. In this setting, conglomerates are normally very well sorted, well-rounded and often with a strong A-axis type imbrication of the clasts. [9]

Shallow marine

Conglomerates are normally present at the base of sequences laid down during marine transgressions above an unconformity, and are known as basal conglomerates. They represent the position of the shoreline at a particular time and are diachronous. [10]


Conglomerates deposited in fluvial environments are typically well rounded and poorly sorted. Clasts of this size are carried as bedload and only at times of high flow-rate. The maximum clast size decreases as the clasts are transported further due to attrition, so conglomerates are more characteristic of immature river systems. In the sediments deposited by mature rivers, conglomerates are generally confined to the basal part of a channel fill where they are known as pebble lags. [11] Conglomerates deposited in a fluvial environment often have an AB-plane type imbrication.


Fanglomerate in Death Valley National Park Conglomerate Death Valley NP.jpg
Fanglomerate in Death Valley National Park

Alluvial deposits form in areas of high relief and are typically coarse-grained. At mountain fronts individual alluvial fans merge to form braidplains and these two environments are associated with the thickest deposits of conglomerates. The bulk of conglomerates deposited in this setting are clast-supported with a strong AB-plane imbrication. Matrix-supported conglomerates, as a result of debris-flow deposition, are quite commonly associated with many alluvial fans. When such conglomerates accumulate within an alluvial fan, in rapidly eroding (e.g., desert) environments, the resulting rock unit is often called a fanglomerate. [9]


Glaciers carry a lot of coarse-grained material and many glacial deposits are conglomeratic. tillites, the sediments deposited directly by a glacier, are typically poorly sorted, matrix-supported conglomerates. The matrix is generally fine-grained, consisting of finely milled rock fragments. Waterlaid deposits associated with glaciers are often conglomeratic, forming structures such as eskers. [11]


An example of conglomerate can be seen at Montserrat, near Barcelona. Here, erosion has created vertical channels that give the characteristic jagged shapes the mountain is named for (Montserrat literally means "jagged mountain"). The rock is strong enough to use as a building material, as in the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey.

Another example, the Crestone Conglomerate, occurs in and near the town of Crestone, at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Range in Colorado's San Luis Valley. The Crestone Conglomerate consists of poorly sorted fanglomerates that accumulated in prehistoric alluvial fans and related fluvial systems. Some of these rocks have hues of red and green.

Conglomerate cliffs are found on the east coast of Scotland from Arbroath northwards along the coastlines of the former counties of Angus and Kincardineshire. Dunnottar Castle sits on a rugged promontory of conglomerate jutting into the North Sea just south of the town of Stonehaven.

Copper Harbor Conglomerate is found both in the Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

Conglomerate may also be seen in the domed hills of Kata Tjuta, in Australia's Northern Territory [12] or in the Buda Hills in Hungary. [13]

In the nineteenth century a thick layer of Pottsville conglomerate was recognized to underlie anthracite coal measures in Pennsylvania. [14]

Examples on Mars

On Mars, slabs of conglomerate have been found at an outcrop named "Hottah", and have been interpreted by scientists as having formed in an ancient streambed. The gravels, which were discovered by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, range from the size of sand particles to the size of golf balls. Analysis has shown that the pebbles were deposited by a stream that flowed at walking pace and was ankle- to hip-deep. [15]


Metamorphic alteration transforms conglomerate into metaconglomerate. [3]

See also

Related Research Articles

Sandstone Type of sedimentary rock

Sandstone is a clastic sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized silicate grains. Sandstones comprise about 20–25% of all sedimentary rocks.

Sedimentary rock Rock formed by the deposition and subsequent cementation of material

Sedimentary rocks are types of rock that are formed by the accumulation or deposition of mineral or organic particles at Earth's surface, followed by cementation. Sedimentation is the collective name for processes that cause these particles to settle in place. The particles that form a sedimentary rock are called sediment, and may be composed of geological detritus (minerals) or biological detritus. The geological detritus originated from weathering and erosion of existing rocks, or from the solidification of molten lava blobs erupted by volcanoes. The geological detritus is transported to the place of deposition by water, wind, ice or mass movement, which are called agents of denudation. Biological detritus was formed by bodies and parts of dead aquatic organisms, as well as their fecal mass, suspended in water and slowly piling up on the floor of water bodies. Sedimentation may also occur as dissolved minerals precipitate from water solution.

Breccia Rock composed of broken fragments cemented by a matrix

Breccia is a sedimentary rock composed of large angular broken fragments of minerals or rocks cemented together by a fine-grained matrix.

Gravel Mix of crumbled stones: grain size range between 2 – 63 mm according to ISO 14688

Gravel is a loose aggregation of rock fragments. Gravel occurs naturally throughout the world as a result of sedimentary and erosive geologic processes; it is also produced in large quantities commercially as crushed stone.

Lithology Description of its physical characteristics of a rock unit

The lithology of a rock unit is a description of its physical characteristics visible at outcrop, in hand or core samples, or with low magnification microscopy. Physical characteristics include colour, texture, grain size, and composition. Lithology may refer to either a detailed description of these characteristics, or a summary of the gross physical character of a rock. Examples of lithologies in the second sense include sandstone, slate, basalt, or limestone.

Torridon Group

In geology, the term Torridonian is the informal name for the Torridonian Group, a series of Mesoproterozoic to Neoproterozoic arenaceous and argillaceous sedimentary rocks, which occur extensively in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland. The strata of the Torridonian Group are particularly well exposed in the district of upper Loch Torridon, a circumstance which suggested the name Torridon Sandstone, first applied to these rocks by James Nicol. Stratigraphically, they lie unconformably on gneisses of the Lewisian complex and their outcrop extent is restricted to the Hebridean Terrane.

Clastic rock Sedimentary rocks made of mineral or rock fragments

Clastic rocks are composed of fragments, or clasts, of pre-existing minerals and rock. A clast is a fragment of geological detritus, chunks and smaller grains of rock broken off other rocks by physical weathering. Geologists use the term clastic with reference to sedimentary rocks as well as to particles in sediment transport whether in suspension or as bed load, and in sediment deposits.

Roxbury Conglomerate

The Roxbury Conglomerate, also informally known as Roxbury puddingstone, is a name for a rock formation that forms the bedrock underlying most of Roxbury, Massachusetts, now part of the city of Boston. The bedrock formation extends well beyond the limits of Roxbury, underlying part or all of Quincy, Canton, Milton, Dorchester, Dedham, Jamaica Plain, Brighton, Brookline, Newton, Needham, and Dover. It is named for exposures in Roxbury, Boston area.

Puddingstone (rock) Colorful conglomerate rock

Puddingstone, also known as either pudding stone or plum-pudding stone, is a popular name applied to a conglomerate that consists of distinctly rounded pebbles whose colours contrast sharply with the colour of the finer-grained, often sandy, matrix or cement surrounding them. The rounded pebbles and the sharp contrast in colour gives this type of conglomerate the appearance of a raisin or Christmas pudding. There are different types of puddingstone, with different composition, origin, and geographical distribution. Examples of different types of puddingstones include the Hertfordshire, Schunemunk, Roxbury, and St. Joseph Island puddingstones.

Rudite is a general name used for a sedimentary rock composed of rounded or angular detrital grains, i.e. granules, pebbles, cobbles, and boulders, which are coarser than sand in size. Rudites include sedimentary rocks composed of both siliciclastic, i.e. conglomerate and breccia, and carbonate grains, i.e. calcirudite and rudstone. This term is equivalent to the Greek-derived term, psephite. Rudite was initially proposed by Grabau as "rudyte." It is derived from the Latin word rudus for "crushed stone," "rubbish," "debris," and "rubble".

This glossary of geology is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to geology, its sub-disciplines, and related fields. For other terms related to the Earth sciences, see Glossary of geography terms.

Imbrication (sedimentology) Overlapping aligned fragments in sedimentary rock

In sedimentology, imbrication is a primary depositional fabric consisting of a preferred orientation of clasts such that they overlap one another in a consistent fashion, rather like a run of toppled dominoes. Imbrication is observed in conglomerates and some volcaniclastic deposits.

Cementation (geology) Process of chemical precipitation bonding sedimentary grains

Cementation involves ions carried in groundwater chemically precipitating to form new crystalline material between sedimentary grains. The new pore-filling minerals forms "bridges" between original sediment grains, thereby binding them together. In this way, sand becomes sandstone, and gravel becomes conglomerate or breccia. Cementation occurs as part of the diagenesis or lithification of sediments. Cementation occurs primarily below the water table regardless of sedimentary grain sizes present. Large volumes of pore water must pass through sediment pores for new mineral cements to crystallize and so millions of years are generally required to complete the cementation process. Common mineral cements include calcite, quartz, and silica phases like cristobalite, iron oxides, and clay minerals; other mineral cements also occur.

Enon Formation Jurassic-Cretaceous geological formation in the Uitenhage Group of South Africa

The Enon Formation is a geological formation found in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces in South Africa. It is the lowermost of the four formations found within the Uitenhage Group of the Algoa Basin, its type locality, where it has been measured at a maximum thickness of 480 metres (1,570 ft). Discontinuous outcrops are also found in the Worcester-Pletmos and Oudshoorn-Gamtoos Basins, including isolated occurrences in the Haasvlakte, Jubilee, and Soutpansvlakte Basins near the small town Bredasdorp.

Roundness (geology)

Roundness is the degree of smoothing due to abrasion of sedimentary particles. It is expressed as the ratio of the average radius of curvature of the edges or corners to the radius of curvature of the maximum inscribed sphere.

Cobble (geology)

A cobble is a clast of rock defined on the Udden–Wentworth scale as having a particle size of 64–256 millimeters (2.5–10.1 in), larger than a pebble and smaller than a boulder. Other scales define a cobble's size differently. A rock made predominantly of cobbles is termed a conglomerate. Cobblestone is a building material based on cobbles.

The Stretton Group is a group of rocks associated with the Longmyndian Supergroup of Ediacaran age, in Shropshire, England. The rocks are located within the tract between two elements of the Welsh Borderland Fault System, the Church Stretton Fault and the Pontesford-Linley Lineament.

Way Group is a geologic group of Lower Cretaceous age located in northern Chile. The sediments of the group deposited in Coloso Basin, a small intra-arc basin made up by a half graben. The now inactive Coloso Basin is elongated along a NNW-SSE oriented axis and has its southwestern border made up by faults.

Catoctin Formation

The Catoctin Formation is a geologic formation that expands through Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. It dates back to the Precambrian and is closely associated with the Harpers Formation, Weverton Formation, and the Loudoun Formation. The Catoctin Formation lies over the a granite basement rock and below the Chilhowee Group making it only exposed on the outer parts of the Blue Ridge. The Catoctin Formation contains metabasalt, metarhyolite, and porphyritic rocks, columnar jointing, low-dipping primary joints, amygdules, sedimentary dikes, and flow breccias. Evidence for past volcanic activity includes columnar basalts and greenstone dikes.


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