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Hutton's Unconformity at Jedburgh, Scotland, illustrated by John Clerk in 1787 and photographed in 2003. Hutton Unconformity , Jedburgh.jpg
Hutton's Unconformity at Jedburgh, Scotland, illustrated by John Clerk in 1787 and photographed in 2003.

An unconformity is a buried erosional or non-depositional surface separating two rock masses or strata of different ages, indicating that sediment deposition was not continuous. In general, the older layer was exposed to erosion for an interval of time before deposition of the younger layer, but the term is used to describe any break in the sedimentary geologic record. The significance of angular unconformity (see below) was shown by James Hutton, who found examples of Hutton's Unconformity at Jedburgh in 1787 and at Siccar Point in 1788. [1] [2]


The rocks above an unconformity are younger than the rocks beneath (unless the sequence has been overturned). An unconformity represents time during which no sediments were preserved in a region or were subsequently eroded before the next deposition. The local record for that time interval is missing and geologists must use other clues to discover that part of the geologic history of that area. The interval of geologic time not represented is called a hiatus. It is a kind of relative dating.



Disconformity Disconformity.jpg

A disconformity is an unconformity between parallel layers of sedimentary rocks which represents a period of erosion or non-deposition. [3] Disconformities are marked by features of subaerial erosion. This type of erosion can leave channels and paleosols in the rock record. [4]


Nonconformity Nonconformity.jpg

A nonconformity exists between sedimentary rocks and metamorphic or igneous rocks when the sedimentary rock lies above and was deposited on the pre-existing and eroded metamorphic or igneous rock. Namely, if the rock below the break is igneous or has lost its bedding due to metamorphism, the plane of juncture is a nonconformity. [5]

Angular unconformity

Angular unconformity Angular unconformity.jpg
Angular unconformity

An angular unconformity is an unconformity where horizontally parallel strata of sedimentary rock are deposited on tilted and eroded layers, producing an angular discordance with the overlying horizontal layers. [6] The whole sequence may later be deformed and tilted by further orogenic activity. A typical case history is presented by the paleotectonic evolution of the Briançonnais realm (Swiss and French Prealps) during the Jurassic. [7] [8]


Paraconformity Paraconformity.jpg

A paraconformity is a type of unconformity in which the sedimentary layers above and below the unconformity are parallel, but there is no obvious erosional break between them. A break in sedimentation is indicated, for example, by fossil evidence. It is also called nondepositional unconformity or pseudoconformity. [9] [10] Short paraconformities are called diastems. [11]

Buttress unconformity

A buttress unconformity also known as onlap unconformity, occurs when younger bedding is deposited against older strata thus influencing its bedding structure. [12]

Blended unconformity

A blended unconformity is a type of disconformity or nonconformity with no distinct separation plane or contact, sometimes consisting of soils, paleosols, or beds of pebbles derived from the underlying rock. [13]

Related Research Articles

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.

Stratigraphy Study of rock layers and their formation

Stratigraphy is a branch of geology concerned with the study of rock layers (strata) and layering (stratification). It is primarily used in the study of sedimentary and layered volcanic rocks. Stratigraphy has three related subfields: lithostratigraphy, biostratigraphy, and chronostratigraphy.

Old Red Sandstone Assemblage of rocks in the North Atlantic region

The Old Red Sandstone is an assemblage of rocks in the North Atlantic region largely of Devonian age. It extends in the east across Great Britain, Ireland and Norway, and in the west along the northeastern seaboard of North America. It also extends northwards into Greenland and Svalbard. These areas were a part of the ancient continent of Euramerica/Laurussia. In Britain it is a lithostratigraphic unit to which stratigraphers accord supergroup status and which is of considerable importance to early paleontology. For convenience the short version of the term, ORS is often used in literature on the subject. The term was coined to distinguish the sequence from the younger New Red Sandstone which also occurs widely throughout Britain.

Great Unconformity Gap in geological strata

Of the many unconformities (gaps) observed in geological strata, the term Great Unconformity is frequently applied to either the unconformity observed by James Hutton in 1787 at Siccar Point in Scotland, or that observed by John Wesley Powell in the Grand Canyon in 1869. Both instances are exceptional examples of where the contacts between sedimentary strata and either sedimentary or crystalline strata of greatly different ages, origins, and structure represent periods of geologic time sufficiently long to raise great mountains and then erode them away.


Lithostratigraphy is a sub-discipline of stratigraphy, the geological science associated with the study of strata or rock layers. Major focuses include geochronology, comparative geology, and petrology.

Relative dating

Relative dating is the science of determining the relative order of past events, without necessarily determining their absolute age. In geology, rock or superficial deposits, fossils and lithologies can be used to correlate one stratigraphic column with another. Prior to the discovery of radiometric dating in the early 20th century, which provided a means of absolute dating, archaeologists and geologists used relative dating to determine ages of materials. Though relative dating can only determine the sequential order in which a series of events occurred, not when they occurred, it remains a useful technique. Relative dating by biostratigraphy is the preferred method in paleontology and is, in some respects, more accurate. The Law of Superposition, which states that older layers will be deeper in a site than more recent layers, was the summary outcome of 'relative dating' as observed in geology from the 17th century to the early 20th century.

A way up structure, way up criterion, or geopetal indicator is a characteristic relationship observed in a sedimentary or volcanic rock, or sequence of rocks, that makes it possible to determine whether they are the right way up or have been overturned by subsequent deformation. This technique is particularly important in areas affected by thrusting and where there is a lack of other indications of the relative ages of beds within the sequence, such as in the Precambrian where fossils are rare.

Kaibab Limestone Permian geologic formation

The Kaibab Limestone is a resistant cliff-forming, Permian geologic formation that crops out across the U.S. states of northern Arizona, southern Utah, east central Nevada and southeast California. It is also known as the Kaibab Formation in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. The Kaibab Limestone forms the rim of the Grand Canyon. In the Big Maria Mountains, California, the Kaibab Limestone is highly metamorphosed and known as the Kaibab Marble.

Cross-bedding Sedimentary rock strata at differing angles

In geology, cross-bedding, also known as cross-stratification, is layering within a stratum and at an angle to the main bedding plane. The sedimentary structures which result are roughly horizontal units composed of inclined layers. The original depositional layering is tilted, such tilting not being the result of post-depositional deformation. Cross-beds or "sets" are the groups of inclined layers, which are known as cross-strata.

Bed (geology)

In geology, a bed is a layer of sediment, sedimentary rock, or pyroclastic material "bounded above and below by more or less well-defined bedding surfaces". Specifically in sedimentology, a bed can be defined in one of two major ways. First, Campbell and Reineck and Singh use the term bed to refer to a thickness-independent layer comprising a coherent layer of sedimentary rock, sediment, or pyroclastic material bounded above and below by surfaces known as bedding planes. By this definition of bed, laminae are small beds that constitute the smallest (visible) layers of a hierarchical succession and often, but not always, internally comprise a bed.

Hutton's Unconformity is a name given to various notable geological sites in Scotland identified by the 18th-century Scottish geologist James Hutton as places where the junction between two types of rock formations can be seen. This geological phenomenon marks the location where rock formations created at different times and by different forces adjoin. For Hutton, such an unconformity provided evidence for his Plutonist theories of uniformitarianism and the age of Earth.

Sedimentary structures Geologic structures formed during sediment deposition

Sedimentary structures include all kinds of features in sediments and sedimentary rocks, formed at the time of deposition.

Cardenas Basalt Rock formation in the Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Cardenas Basalt, also known as either the Cardenas Lava or Cardenas Lavas, is a rock formation that outcrops over an area of about 310 km2 (120 mi2) in the eastern Grand Canyon, Coconino County, Arizona. The lower part of the Cardenas Basalt forms granular talus slopes. Its upper part forms nearly continuous low cliffs that are parallel to the general course of the Colorado River. The most complete, readily accessible, and easily studied exposure of the Cardenas Basalt lies in Basalt Canyon. This is also its type locality.

Unkar Group Sequence of geologic strata of Proterozoic age

The Unkar Group is a sequence of strata of Proterozoic age that are subdivided into five geologic formations and exposed within the Grand Canyon, Arizona, Southwestern United States. The 5-unit Unkar Group is the basal member of the 8-member Grand Canyon Supergroup. The Unkar is about 1,600 to 2,200 m thick and composed, in ascending order, of the Bass Formation, Hakatai Shale, Shinumo Quartzite, Dox Formation, and Cardenas Basalt. Units 4 & 5 are found mostly in the eastern region of Grand Canyon. Units 1 through 3 are found in central Grand Canyon. The Unkar Group accumulated approximately between 1250 and 1104 Ma. In ascending order, the Unkar Group is overlain by the Nankoweap Formation, about 113 to 150 m thick; the Chuar Group, about 1,900 m (6,200 ft) thick; and the Sixtymile Formation, about 60 m (200 ft) thick. These are all of the units of the Grand Canyon Supergroup. The Unkar Group makes up approximately half of the thickness of the 8-unit Supergroup.

Nankoweap Formation Neoproterozoic geologic sequence of the Grand Canyon Supergroup

The Neoproterozoic Nankoweap Formation, is a thin sequence of distinctive red beds that consist of reddish brown and tan sandstones and subordinate siltstones and mudrocks that unconformably overlie basaltic lava flows of the Cardenas Basalt of the Unkar Group and underlie the sedimentary strata of the Galeros Formation of the Chuar Group. The Nankoweap Formation is slightly more than 100 m in thickness. It is informally subdivided into informal lower and upper members that are separated and enclosed by unconformities. Its lower (ferruginous) member is 0 to 15 m thick. The Grand Canyon Supergroup, of which the Nankoweap Formation is part, unconformably overlies deeply eroded granites, gneisses, pegmatites, and schists that comprise Vishnu Basement Rocks.

Bass Formation Lithostratigraphic unit found in Arizona, US

The Bass Formation, also known as the Bass Limestone, is a Mesoproterozoic rock formation that outcrops in the eastern Grand Canyon, Coconino County, Arizona. The Bass Formation erodes as either cliffs or stair-stepped cliffs. In the case of the stair-stepped topography, resistant dolomite layers form risers and argillite layers form steep treads. In general, the Bass Formation in the Grand Canyon region and associated strata of the Unkar Group-rocks dip northeast (10°–30°) toward normal faults that dip 60+° toward the southwest. This can be seen at the Palisades fault in the eastern part of the main Unkar Group outcrop area. In addition, thick, prominent, and dark-colored basaltic sills intrude across the Bass Formation.

Shinumo Quartzite Mesoproterozoic rock formation in the Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Shinumo Quartzite also known as the Shinumo Sandstone, is a Mesoproterozoic rock formation, which outcrops in the eastern Grand Canyon, Coconino County, Arizona,. It is the 3rd member of the 5-unit Unkar Group. The Shinumo Quartzite consists of a series of massive, cliff-forming sandstones and sedimentary quartzites. Its cliffs contrast sharply with the stair-stepped topography of typically brightly-colored strata of the underlying slope-forming Hakatai Shale. Overlying the Shinumo, dark green to black, fissile, slope-forming shales of the Dox Formation create a well-defined notch. It and other formations of the Unkar Group occur as isolated fault-bound remnants along the main stem of the Colorado River and its tributaries in Grand Canyon.

Typically, the Shinumo Quartzite and associated strata of the Unkar Group dip northeast (10°–30°) toward normal faults that dip 60+° toward the southwest. This can be seen at the Palisades fault in the eastern part of the main Unkar Group outcrop area.

Sixtymile Formation Cambrian geologic accumulation found in Arizona

The Sixtymile Formation is a very thin accumulation of sandstone, siltstone, and breccia underlying the Tapeats Sandstone that is exposed in only four places in the Chuar Valley. These exposures occur atop Nankoweap Butte and within Awatubi and Sixtymile Canyons in the eastern Grand Canyon, Arizona. The maximum preserved thickness of the Sixtymile Formation is about 60 meters (200 ft). The actual depositional thickness of the Sixtymile Formation is unknown owing to erosion prior to deposition of the Tapeats Sandstone.

A geological contact is a boundary which separates one rock body from another. A contact can be formed during deposition, by the intrusion of magma, or through faulting or other deformation of rock beds that brings distinct rock bodies into contact.

Cola de Zorro Formation is a geological formation cropping out along the Argentina-Chile border and composed of volcano-sedimentary and volcaniclastic rocks. It extends along the Andes between the latitudes of 36 and 39° S.


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Further reading