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GLOSSARY OF GEOLOGICAL TERMS
Note: This glossary has been prepared with the intention of
help for readers who are not familiar with specialized geologic terms.
It is not intended that the definitions will be exhaustive, but we have
made an effort to include enough defining material for the purposes of
this paper. Words which are adequately defined in medium-size,
dictionaries are usually not included in this glossary.
Asterisked (*) words are herein capitalized as a reminder that they
are, in geology, often used as proper nouns, even though they are not
capitalized in common usage.
|adj. - adjective
|| e.g. - for example
|adv. - adverb
|| pl. - plural
|cf. - compare
|| sg. - singular
aerial - pertaining to the air, e.g., aerial exposure of
alga (p1. algae) - a species of non-vascular plant, usually
requiring an aquatic environment.
algal mat - a layer of thick algal growth which contains a
amount of inorganic sediment which has collected in the mat. Usually it
is the mucilaginous secretion of the algae which traps and binds the
Simple algal mats often develop into stromatolites, as layers are added
anhydrite - a pure form of calcium sulfate (CaSO4),
which is a salt. The main components are the same as those of gypsum,
each gypsum molecule has two molecules of water attached.
anticline - a longitudinal fold of rock layers which is
convex upward. Frequently the younger rock strata are found to have
worn off from the crest of the fold.
areal - an adj. pertaining to position and horizontal extent
on the earth's surface. Adv., areally. Cf. the noun, area.
basin - "A geological basin is an area in which rock strata
are inclined downward from all sides toward the center" (McGraw-Hill
Encyclopedia of the Geological Sciences). The downward inclination
is due to subsidence. In many cases such basins have been filled in and
then deeply buried by later addition of sediments.
biogenic - having a biological origin, e.g., due to the growth
of lime-secreting plants or animals.
bioherm - a moundlike mass of rock composed of calcareous
secreted or collected by animals or plants growing on the site. Ancient
bioherms are normal ly found in limestone formations, but enclosed in
of a lithological character somewhat different from that of the bioherm
breccia - a coarse-grained type of rock composed of angular,
broken rock fragments. Verb, brecciate - to break into fragments.
calcareous - adj., possessing at least an appreciable
of calcium carbonate (CaCO3).
calcite - a pure form of calcium carbonate which is a
mineral. It commonly exists in the form of white, rhombohedral crystals
of many size grades. White streaks of calcite are frequently seen in
carbonates - a general term used to refer to kinds of rock
contain a significant proportion of calcium carbonate or of calcium
carbonate. Limestone, dolostone, and calcareous shale are three of the
most common carbonate rock types.
carbonate shelf - a relatively level area of carbonate
(and eventually rock) which forms along a carbonate producing tidal
and seacoast. If a thick and extensive buildup is formed it is called a
carbonate platform (J. L. Wilson, 1975, pp. 21-24, 33-36).
cementation - the process of building mineral crystals in
the grains of a sediment mass, resulting in lithification. The mineral
crystals, e.g., calcite, are usually formed by precipitation from ions
in the pore water flowing through the sediment mass.
Cenozoic - the uppermost of the three Eras of time
the Precambrian. The Cenozo ic followed the Mesozoic Era and includes
Tertiary and Quaternary Periods.Cf. Mesozoic, Paleozoic.
clastic - an adj. used to describe kinds of rock or sediment
which are composed princi pally of fragments derived from pre-existing
rocks or minerals; e.g., quartz sandstones, siltstones, and shales are
claystone - rock which is composed mainly of clay particles,
but which does not break apart into separate laminations as does shale.
debris flow - a type of sediment gravity flow (water and
particles) in which there is only very limited sorting of the particles
as to size or shape.
diagenesis - any of several types of basic changes which take
place in a mass of sediment after its initial deposition; e.g.,
preferential dissolution, and replace ment.
diatomaceous - adj., containing a significant proportion of
dolostone - a type of sedimentary rock which contains a high
percentage of the mineral dolomite.
dolomite - calcium magnesium carbonate, CaMg(C03)2.
endolithic - living inrock. Said of rock-boring
epifauna - fauna (animal life) living on the surface—e.g., of a rock
estuarine—belonging to, or formed in, an estuary.
estuary - the widened mouth of a river, where fresh water
the sea in a broad area affected by the tides.
evaporite - any mineral or rock layer which has been formed
primarily by precipitation from solution as the water evaporates.
fabric - the general texture or arrangement and
of the particles and cement crystals in a given rock.
facies - a term which has several rather complex uses. For a
minimum, general definition one can think of a facies as the makeup or
composition of a particular group of rock layers which, by its
shows that the entire unit was deposited in a given environment. Thus,
the set of strata can be traced laterally by its suite of
or facies.For example, a deposit of limestone which has a high
of oöids throughout the rock is referred to as having an
facies." (Many authors speak of such a deposit of limestone as beingan
"oölitic facies.") Within a given geographic area, at a particular
level, there may be two or more types of facies laterally adjacent to
other; and in any location where there is a thick sedimentary cover,
local geological column nearly always exhibits many vertically
fauna - animal life forms, as seen either in the present, or
as indicated by animal fossils in the rock strata.
*Formation - a lithologically distinct and mappable body of
rock layers or masses, representing an important depositional episode
the history of the region in which it was deposited. A Formation is a
unit, rather than a time unit, and is sometimes divided into Members.
Chapter 1, note 2.
genera (sg. genus) - subdivisions of a family, in
and plant classification. A genus is made up of two or more species
geosyncline - a large geographic area which has undergone
and a filling in with sediments from surrounding areas.
grain - a small particle of sediment or rock, whether it be
a fragment of an earlier rock, a small shell, a fragment of a shell, or
a mineral crystal.
graywacke - a type of coarse-grained sedimentary rock which
consists of poorly sorted grains of quartz, feldspar, and other lithic
fragments. Since the matrix often contains dark-colored minerals, the
is generally gray.
*Group - a subdivision of a rock System. Two or more
make up a Group.
halite - sodium chloride NaCl (common table salt).
hardground - a layer of sediment which has undergone early
on the sea floor. Hardgrounds are usually of carbonate composition with
embedded fossils. Frequently the fossils undergo partial erosion before
another hardground is added above. Such hardground strata are
found in ancient limestone deposits.
hypersaline - containing a relatively high percentage of
igneous - a term used to designate a rock or mineral that was
formed from molten material, rather than from sedimentary particles.
indurated - partially or fully hardened. Said of a mass or
of sediment in which lithification processes have occurred.
intercalated - lying in between, thus forming an alternating
series of contrasting layers.
in situ - in its natural place or position, as in the
case of a fossilized organic structure which is found lying in its
invertebrate - belonging to the subkingdom of animals which
do not possess a vertebral column.
isopach map - a map which has enclosing lines showing the
of a particular kind or age of rock throughout a geographic area; e.g.,
an isopach map of a commercially valuable deposit of limestone
karst terrane - an area underlain by limestone or another type
of soluble rock, which shows the definite effects of the dissolving
of water. Sinkholes, caves, and other cavities in the rock are some of
lacustrine - an adj. pertaining to lakes or ancient
laminae (sg. lamina) - thin layers.
laminated - composed of very thin layers.
lithification - a general term for the several
processes by which sediments become rock.
lithologic - having to do with rock types. For example, a
column" in a geologic research report shows the types of rocks which
one upon another.
local column - the suite of rock layers which lie one upon
in a given geographic location; not to be confused with the general
log (drilling log) - a continuous record of the rock types and
characteristics encountered, made as the drill proceeds down through
macrofossil - a fossil which can be seen with the unaided eye
or with a common hand-lens.
marine - pertaining to seawater. For example, "marine strata"
designates rock layers which were deposited in seawater rather than in
freshwater lakes or streams.
massive - in the geologic sense, this term refers to a mass
of rock which does not show thin bedding or other types of layering.
*Member - a subdivision of the geologic Formation.
Mesozoic - the middle of the three Eras of time since
the Precambrian. It consists of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods.
Cf. Cenozoic, Paleozoic.
micrite - the finely-divided, carbonate matrix of a limestone,
consisting of very small particles which would be called "lime mud" or
"carbonate ooze" if it were not lithified.
microfauna - animal life forms which can be seen
with a microscope.
microflora - plant life forms which can be seen only with a
microfossils - fossils which are too small to see with the
eye. These are found in abundance, embedded in many types of
rock. Some of the most abundant are those of the protozoan orders
(with calcareous shells), and Radiolaria (with shells or skeletons
of silica). The most abundant algal microfossils are the
(producing calcareous plates), and the diatoms (producing shells of
mineral - a substance, usually an inorganic compound, which
appears in nature. Minerals are the major components of rocks.
model - in science, a model is a proposed explanation, or
outlined hypothesis, which is subject to further investigation. After
observation and investigation the model may be verified as an actual
of reality, or it may be shown to be defective, and consequently
For example, a geologist may propose a model as a preliminary attempt
explain how a particular, ancient salt basin was formed.
nannofossil - one of many kinds of very small microfossils
(Greek, nanno -
dwarf). The term is used mainly of marine, calcareous, algal organisms.
One of the most important groups is the coccolithophores (literally,
of round, lithic plates").
oöids - a spherical, carbonate, sedimentary particle or
grain which is made up of thin, concentric layers around a very small
Oöids are being formed in large numbers in shallow, agitated water
on the Great Bahama Bank. They are also found in many ancient limestone
formations. Types of limestone which contain a considerable percentage
of oöids are known as oölites.
orogeny - a major phase or period of fold-mountain building,
e.g., the Acadian and Alleghenlan orogenies of the Appalachians. Adj.,
order - a subdivision of a class,in animal and plant
classification. An order is made up of two or more families of
Paleozoic - the oldest (lowest) of the three Erasof
since the precambrian. It is made up of all the Periods from
Cambrian up through the Permian. The next Era above the Permian Period
was the Mesozoic.
pelagic zone - the part of the oceans which is water,in
contrast to the ocean floor. Most of the organic growth occurs in the
levels of the pelagic zone, because it receives sunlight which is
*Period - a division of geologic time; cf. Paleozoic, above.
petrology - the division of geology which concentrates on the
study of the types, characteristics, and origins of rocks.
petrographic - having to do with a detailed study of rocks;
e.g., the study of thin sections of rock under a petrographic
phylum - a large subdivision of the animal kingdom or of the
plant kingdom. A phylum may be divided into subphyla, each
two or more classes.
planktonic - pertaining to organisms which live a floating
in the sea; e.g., marine protozoa and algae which float near the
pore water - water which percolates slowly through the pores
of a mass of sediments or rock.
precipitation - the process involving the combining of ions
present in a solution—such as in seawater—to form a solid phase (solid
particles, which can then settle out). Precipitation should not be
with the settlingof particles out of suspen sion.
progradation - extension of land into the sea by deposition
and accumulation of sediments borne by rivers or coastal currents.
regression - a retreat of the sea from coastal areas, due
a drop in sea level or a rise of the land.
sabkha - a salt-encrusted flat, lying a short distance inland
from the usual water's edge, on an arid seacoast.
sediment gravity flow - a downslope movement (flow) of a
of sediments, and sometimes larger rock fragments, mixed with water.
finer sediments increase the density of the fluid mixture, and thus
rock fragments can be trans ported. Two common types of sediment
flow are the debris flow and the turbidity flow.
seismic survey - a type of exploration which employs
produced shock waves which descend into the earth's crust and are
back from certain rock layers to a sensitive recording device.
*Series - a subdivision of a System of rock strata (see
sharp contact - the joining surface between two definitely
silica - a general term for the different forms of silicon
which are found in sediments and rocks.
siltstone - a type of sedimentary rock similar to sandstone
but composed of smaller-than sand-sized particles. In most
systems, "sand" ranges from 1/16 mm to 2 mm in diameter.
slurry - a highly fluid mixture of water and
of solid matter. strata (sg. stratum) - a general term for layers of
or of unlithified sediment.
stratigraphic sequence - a series of rock layers lying one
another. The word "sequence" here usually implies a known and
order of arrangement or vertical relationship.
stromatoid - a single, relatively small, mound, dome, or
composed of thin sediment layers, found in limestone deposits (see
stromatolite - a type of rock containing mounds, domes, or
which have been formed as a result of algal growth. The mucilaginous
of the algae collect carbonate sediment from the water, forming
structures known as stromatoids. (Also see "algal mat.")
stromatoporoid - an extinct class of marine animals which grew
in colonies, secreting calcium carbonate, and forming extensive
of the same. Their growth habits were similar to those of corals, and
often contributed to the growth of large carbonate mounds. The prefix stroma,
used in this and several other geologic and biological words, is
meaning "bed" or "bedding." It is thus used to indicate a flat,
subtidal zone - the zone of sea floor extending from low-tide
level, near the shore, to the edge of the continental shelf.
supersaturated - pertaining to a solution which possesses a
concentration of a given mineral, higher than the normal concentration
needed for the beginning of precipitation. (Also see "precipitation.")
supratidal - the part of a seacoast which is above the normal
high-tide level. It is covered with water only during storms and
*System (also called a rock system or strata system) - a major
chrono-stratigraphic unit consisting of the rock layers formed during a
Period of geologic time. Thus the Formations of the Devonian System
laid down during the Devonian Period, but the System is not a time
taxonomic - an adj. having to do with the classification of
tectonic - an adj. pertaining to structural characteristics
and movements in the earth's crust, either in the past or present.
terrigenous - derived from the land or a continent; said of
sediments derived from the land rather than from the ocean floor.
thin-section - a specimen of rock which has been ground very
thin for examination under a microscope.
transgression - an encroachment of the sea up onto the land,
due to a general rise in sea level or a subsidence of the land.
truncation - the cutting off of a part of a structure, as of
the top of a mountain by erosion.
tsunami (tsu nä' me - Japanese) - any large-scale wave
in the ocean caused by an earthquake shock in the ocean floor. When the
wave reaches shallow water it steepens rapidly and may surge
onto the land margin.
turbidity current - a strong water current, moving downslope
along the bottom, near the edge of a body of water; e.g., the turbidity
currents which carry sediment down a continental slope.
unconformity - the general term for any break or gap in the
geologic record in a geographic area, e.g., between a formation which
undergone a period of erosion of its upper surface and the next
of sediments which were deposited upon it.
vadose zone - the zone of soil, rock, and sediment lying
the ground surface and the water table. This zone is usually not fully
saturated, and is replenished by rains.
vertical section (sometimes spoken of as a "cross section")
- a side view or drawing of a sequence of geologic strata. For example,
at a deep road cut one sees a vertical section of several strata. (The
use of the term "cross section" for this is confusing, especially
of the use of "cross section" in biology and paleontology. For example,
a cross section of a bone or of a linear cephalopod fossil is very
from a vertical section of strata.)
algae and algal mats 22, 29, 45-46, 69, 100-01, 103-04, 108, 116,
122 (see also
Appalachian stratigraphy 18-22, 30-35, 39-45, 58-63
atolls, coral 110-13, 125-26
basins, depositional 23, 90, 106ff, 125-26, 134
Bible, our responsibility to properly represent it 7-9, 96, 127, 131
biogenic structures 45-46, 69-70, 110-14, 125-26 (see also "algal
boundaries, between strata and formations 15-22, 27-30, 53-55
burial, methods of 19, 73-81, 113-16
calcium carbonate 29, 50-53, 101-04 (see also "limestone")
carbonates 40-42, 43-46, 68-70, 105-14 (see also "calcium carbonate,"
catastrophism 49, 54-55, 57-58, 73-74, 83, 87-89, 91-96, 114,
cementation 16, 24-27, 36, 49-55, 68-69, 93, 112-15
Cenozoic Era 84, 86-90, 92
clay and clay particles 40-42, 50, 54
Cnidaria (Coelenterata) 84-87
coccoliths and coccolithophores 89, 94-95
compaction of sediments 29, 49-50, 93
corals and coral reefs 40, 45-46, 85-87, 106, 110-16, 125-26
as an eternal truth 66-68, 72, 96, 127
biblical account of 8, 12
creationism (see "young-earth creationists")
creationists (see "old-earth..." and "young-earth...")
cyclic deposition 70, 97-104, 105-26
debris flows (see "sediment-gravity flows")
diagenesis 70, 114-15, 118-20 (see also "cementation")
dissolution cavities (also called solution cavities) 27-29, 31-32
dolomite and dolostone 27n, 39, 108-10, 115-16, 120-23
drilling research and drilling cores 34-35, 42, 73, 79-80, 90, 101-06,
ecological zoning hypothesis 44-45, 91-96
environments, ancient depositional 45-46, 68-70, 74-81, 97-104, 110-16
environments, modern depositional 22-23, 51-52, 74-76, 100-01, 117-20,
erosion, ancient 16-19, 23-38, 59-61
evaporation, marine 98-104, 118-21
evaporites and evaporite strata 97-104, 105-26
evolutionary theories and evolutionism 7, 57, 69, 131-32
extinction, in the fossil record (see "fossils, extinction...")
flood, biblical 77-78, 86-95, 103, 114, 124
beliefs concerning burial of fossils 73-74, 76-77, 80, 91-93
beliefs concerning lithification of sediments 49-50, 53-55
deficiencies in, specific examples 16, 29, 68-70, 71-72, 86-87, 97-99,
hypotheses concerning sedimentary deposition 11-13, 15-17, 29, 43-46,
Foraminifera 89, 94-95
fossils 24-27, 29, 45-46, 73-74, 76-77, 110-11, 125 (see also
distribution in strata 83-96
extinction of, in the fossil record 84-85, 88, 91-95
"fossil graveyards" 77 (see also "burial")
Genesis account of creation (see "creation, biblical account of')
geologists, sedimentary 11, 51, 68-71, 74
Grand Canyon 27-30, 71, 128
growth rates, organic 40, 91, 103-04, 111-12, 114
hardgrounds, carbonate 16, 24-27
interpretation, biblical 7-9, 12, 65-66
invertebrate paleontology 84-88
laws, natural (see "natural laws, stability of")
limestone 24-30, 34-35, 39-40, 43-46, 50-51, 68-70, 84-87, 92, 110-14,
biogenic components of 43-46 (see also "biogenic
lithification, processes of 24-27, 36, 49-55, 128-29 (see also
logic, false 37, 38, 62, 65-68, 72, 86-87, 92-93, 96, 113, 123-24,
man, his era compared with earlier times 8
microfossils 78-80, 88-91, 94-96
models, scientific 23, 57, 126, 133
mudcracks, ancient preserved 22
nannofossils 94-95 (see also "coccolithophores")
natural laws, stability of 38, 45, 47, 55, 91, 96, 124
ocean floor, sediments of 24-27, 40, 75-77, 78-81, 88-96, 97-98, 104,
121, 126, 133-34
old-earth creationists 7, 127
old earth, positive evidences for 19-38, 49-53, and Chapters 7-9
organic components of evaporite deposits 99-104, 108
petroleum geology 67-69, 71, 105ff, 126
philosophy of science, influence on creationists 66-68
planktonic organisms 78-80, 89-91, 94-96, 103
pollen, fossilized in evaporites 121
precipitation of minerals 43-44, 50-53, 98-99, 101, 118-20
progradation 118, 120, 123
rates (see "growth rates," and "sedimentary deposition rates")
rationality in man 47, 66
research methods, scientific 11-12, 29-30, 57, 66-68, 71, 110-11, 131
(see also "drilling research")
research reports, geologic 16, 34-35, 68-72, 79-80, 106ff, 113, 125,
(see "References Cited" section for alphabetical
listing of many more)
revelation, natural (general) 7, 96, 127
revelation, special 7, 96, 127
rock types 44, 50, 53-54, 68-69, 114, 116
sabkhas and sabkha cycles 116-24
science and truth 66-68, 96
scientific method of research (see "research methods")
sea floor (see "ocean floor, sediments of")
seawater, content of 98-99, 101, 103, 120-21
sediment-gravity flow 74-77, 81
sedimentary deposits, thicknesses of 39-40, 44-45, 53, 92-93, 110,
114, 116-17, 122-23
sedimentary deposition rates 40-41, 43-44, 58, 74-80, 91,
sedimentology and sedimentologists 11-12, 16, 68-70, 97-98
seismic studies 35, 42n, 61-62, 105, 111
stratigraphic sequences and columns 18-21, 39-45, 53-55, 59-62, 77,
85-96, 108-10, 114,
stromatolites and stromatoids 45-46, 115-16, 125
systems (of rock strata) 58-62, 84-88, 105-06, 125-26
theological problems in young-earth creationism 7-8, 47, 65-68, 86-87,
time, methods of estimating 24-29, 35-36, 38, 52-53, 99-104, 121-24
truth (see "science and truth")
turbidity currents (see "sediment-gravity flows")
unconformities 16-21, 27-38
uniformitarianism 11-12, 73-74, 123-24, 134
volcanic activity 54-55, 121, 126
approach to geologic data 16-18, 29-30, 36-38, 39, 44-47, 49, 61-63,
65, 71-72, 96, 97-98, 113, 123-25, 127-31
lack of background in earth sciences 44, 61-62, 68-72, 74-75, 80-81,
83-84, 88-90, 91-92, 127-31
methods of biblical interpretation 8, 65-67
methods of formulating hypotheses 57, 71-72
neglect of current geologic research reports 11, 29-30, 39, 42-43,
49-53, 58, 68-72, 125
Figure 1. Some well-known sharp-contact surfaces and erosional
unconformities in the central Appalachians 17
Figure 2. A vertical-section diagram through the central part of the
Appalachian Highland region 20-21
Figure 3. Diagram of a vertical section of two carbonate hardground
layers and the sediments between them 25
Figure 4. A sequence of unconformities and ancient, buried, erosion
surfaces in the Mississippian and Lower Pennsylvanian rock systems of
West Virginia 35
Figure 5. Geologic map showing an example of the removal of two
entire geologic rock systems by ancient erosion 60
Figure 6. Photographs of three vertical-column thin sections of
evaporite well cores of the Delaware Basin, west Texas 102
Figure 7. Map of Devonian, Elk Point Basin, with its subbasins,
Alberta, Canada 107
Figure 8. A vertical section through the deeper rock layers of one
of the Rainbow area oil fields, Alberta, Canada 109
Figure 9. Diagram of the layers of a sabkha cycle of the type found
in the Rainbow subbasin of Alberta, Canada 117
Figure 10. Location and structure of the Trucial Coast, Saudi Arabia
Appendix. Grading of formations into each other 133
BACKGROUND OF THE AUTHOR
Daniel E. Wonderly has had a lifelong commitment to the complete
of the Bible, and a continuous interest in Bible-science relationships.
He is the author of God's Time-Records in Ancient Sediments(Crystal
Press, 1977, IBRI 1999), and has devoted a major part of the past 20
to the study of sedimentary geology as related to the Genesis account
creation. He is currently active in Christian work, as well as in his
research and writing.
DEGREES A. B., Wheaton College; M. Div. and Th. M., Central Baptist
Seminary of Kansas City; M. S. (original research), Ohio University.
TEACHING EXPERIENCE Southeastern Bible College - 3 years; Wingate
- 5 years (science); Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana - 7 years
ADDITIONAL FORMAL STUDIES National Science Foundation Institutes
and paleontology); Indiana University (geological science); Bermuda
Station (sedimentary geology).
FURTHER GEOLOGIC BACKGROUND Extensive and regular study of published
reports of recent sedimentary research projects carried out by teams of
petroleum geologists, oceanographers, and other earth scientists;
attendance of professional geological meetings and participation in
trips prepared and led by the Geological Society of America and similar
MEMBERSHIPS Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute; The
Society of America (Sedimentary Geology Division); American Scientific
Affilia tion; Indiana Academy of Science; West Virginia Academy of