Basalt (pronounced /bəˈsɔːlt/, /ˈbæsɒlt/ or /ˈbæsɔːlt/)
is a common extrusive igneous (volcanic) rock formed from the rapid
cooling of basaltic lava exposed at or very near the surface of a
planet or moon.
Flood basalt describes the formation in a series of
lava basalt flows.
2.2 Morphology and textures
22.214.171.124 Columnar basalt
2.2.2 Submarine eruptions
126.96.36.199 Pillow basalts
3 Life on basaltic rocks
4.1.4 North America
4.1.5 Celestial bodies
5 Lunar and Martian basalt
6 Alteration of basalt
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Columnar basalt flows in Yellowstone National Park, USA
By definition, basalt is an aphanitic (fine-grained) igneous rock with
generally 45-53% silica (SiO2) and less than 10% feldspathoid by
volume, and where at least 65% of the rock is feldspar in the form of
plagioclase. This is as per definition of the International Union of
Geological Sciences (IUGS) classification scheme. It is the
most common volcanic rock type on Earth, being a key component of
oceanic crust as well as the principal volcanic rock in many
mid-oceanic islands, including Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Réunion
and the islands of Hawaii.
Basalt commonly features a very
fine-grained or glassy matrix interspersed with visible mineral
grains. The average density is 3.0 g/cm3.
Basalt is defined by its mineral content and texture, and physical
descriptions without mineralogical context may be unreliable in some
Basalt is usually grey to black in colour, but rapidly
weathers to brown or rust-red due to oxidation of its mafic
(iron-rich) minerals into hematite and other iron oxides and
hydroxides. Although usually characterized as "dark", basaltic rocks
exhibit a wide range of shading due to regional geochemical processes.
Due to weathering or high concentrations of plagioclase, some basalts
can be quite light-coloured, superficially resembling andesite to
Basalt has a fine-grained mineral texture due to the
molten rock cooling too quickly for large mineral crystals to grow; it
is often porphyritic, containing larger crystals (phenocrysts) formed
prior to the extrusion that brought the magma to the surface, embedded
in a finer-grained matrix. These phenocrysts usually are of olivine or
a calcium-rich plagioclase, which have the highest melting
temperatures of the typical minerals that can crystallize from the
Basalt with a vesicular texture is called vesicular basalt, when the
bulk of the rock is mostly solid; when the vesicles are over half the
volume of a specimen, it is called scoria. This texture forms when
dissolved gases come out of solution and form bubbles as the magma
decompresses as it reaches the surface, yet are trapped as the erupted
lava hardens before the gases can escape.
The term basalt is at times applied to shallow intrusive rocks with a
composition typical of basalt, but rocks of this composition with a
phaneritic (coarser) groundmass are generally referred to as diabase
(also called dolerite) or, when more coarse-grained (crystals over
2 mm across), as gabbro.
Gabbro is often marketed commercially as
Columnar basalt at Szent György Hill, Hungary
Vesicular basalt at Sunset Crater, Arizona.
US quarter for scale.
In the Hadean, Archean, and early
Proterozoic eras of Earth's history,
the chemistry of erupted magmas was significantly different from
today's, due to immature crustal and asthenosphere differentiation.
These ultramafic volcanic rocks, with silica (SiO2) contents below 45%
are usually classified as komatiites.
The word "basalt" is ultimately derived from
Late Latin basaltes, a
misspelling of Latin basanites "very hard stone", which was imported
Ancient Greek βασανίτης (basanites), from βάσανος
(basanos, "touchstone") and perhaps originated in Egyptian bauhun
"slate". The modern petrological term basalt describing a
particular composition of lava-derived rock originates from its use by
Georgius Agricola in 1556 in his famous work of mining and mineralogy
De re metallica, libri XII. Agricola applied "basalt" to the volcanic
black rock of the Schloßberg (local castle hill) at Stolpen,
believing it to be the same as the "very hard stone" described by
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historiae.
Large masses must cool slowly to form a polygonal joint pattern, as
here at the
Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland
Near Bazaltove, Ukraine
Tholeiitic basalt is relatively rich in silica and poor in sodium.
Included in this category are most basalts of the ocean floor, most
large oceanic islands, and continental flood basalts such as the
Columbia River Plateau.
High and low titanium basalts.
Basalt rocks are in some cases
classified after their titanium (Ti) content in High-Ti and Low-Ti
varieties. High-Ti and Low-Ti basalts have been distinguished in the
Paraná and Etendeka traps and the Emeishan Traps.
Mid-ocean ridge basalt (MORB) is a tholeiitic basalt commonly erupted
only at ocean ridges and is characteristically low in incompatible
E-MORB, enriched MORB
N-MORB, normal MORB
D-MORB, depleted MORB
High-alumina basalt may be silica-undersaturated or -oversaturated
(see normative mineralogy). It has greater than 17% alumina (Al2O3)
and is intermediate in composition between tholeiitic basalt and
alkali basalt; the relatively alumina-rich composition is based on
rocks without phenocrysts of plagioclase.
Alkali basalt is relatively poor in silica and rich in sodium. It is
silica-undersaturated and may contain feldspathoids, alkali feldspar
Boninite is a high-magnesium form of basalt that is erupted generally
in back-arc basins, distinguished by its low titanium content and
Ocean island basalt
Photomicrograph of a volcanic (basaltic) sand grain; upper picture is
plane-polarized light, bottom picture is cross-polarized light, scale
box at left-center is 0.25 millimeter. Note white plagioclase
"microlites" in cross-polarized light picture, surrounded by very fine
grained volcanic glass.
The mineralogy of basalt is characterized by a preponderance of calcic
plagioclase feldspar and pyroxene.
Olivine can also be a significant
constituent. Accessory minerals present in relatively minor amounts
include iron oxides and iron-titanium oxides, such as magnetite,
ulvospinel, and ilmenite. Because of the presence of such oxide
minerals, basalt can acquire strong magnetic signatures as it cools,
and paleomagnetic studies have made extensive use of basalt.
In tholeiitic basalt, pyroxene (augite and orthopyroxene or pigeonite)
and calcium-rich plagioclase are common phenocryst minerals. Olivine
may also be a phenocryst, and when present, may have rims of
pigeonite. The groundmass contains interstitial quartz or tridymite or
Olivine tholeiitic basalt has augite and orthopyroxene
or pigeonite with abundant olivine, but olivine may have rims of
pyroxene and is unlikely to be present in the groundmass.
basalts, erupted originally at mid-ocean ridges, are known as MORB
(mid-ocean ridge basalt) and are characteristically low in
Alkali basalts typically have mineral assemblages that lack
orthopyroxene but contain olivine.
Feldspar phenocrysts typically are
labradorite to andesine in composition.
Augite is rich in titanium
compared to augite in tholeiitic basalt. Minerals such as alkali
feldspar, leucite, nepheline, sodalite, phlogopite mica, and apatite
may be present in the groundmass.
Basalt has high liquidus and solidus temperatures—values at the
Earth's surface are near or above 1200 °C (liquidus) and near or
below 1000 °C (solidus); these values are higher than those of
other common igneous rocks.
The majority of tholeiitic basalts are formed at approximately
50–100 km depth within the mantle. Many alkali basalts may be
formed at greater depths, perhaps as deep as
150–200 km. The origin of high-alumina basalt continues
to be controversial, with disagreement over whether it is a primary
melt or derived from other basalt types by fractionation.:65
Relative to most common igneous rocks, basalt compositions are rich in
MgO and CaO and low in SiO2 and the alkali oxides, i.e., Na2O + K2O,
consistent with the TAS classification.
Basalt generally has a composition of 45–55 wt% SiO2, 2–6 wt%
total alkalis, 0.5–2.0 wt% TiO2, 5–14 wt% FeO and 14 wt% or more
Al2O3. Contents of CaO are commonly near 10 wt%, those of MgO commonly
in the range 5 to 12 wt%.
High-alumina basalts have aluminium contents of 17–19 wt% Al2O3;
boninites have magnesium contents of up to 15 percent MgO. Rare
feldspathoid-rich mafic rocks, akin to alkali basalts, may have Na2O +
K2O contents of 12% or more.
The abundances of the lanthanide or rare-earth elements (REE) can be a
useful diagnostic tool to help explain the history of mineral
crystallisation as the melt cooled. In particular, the relative
abundance of europium compared to the other REE is often markedly
higher or lower, and called the europium anomaly. It arises because
Eu2+ can substitute for Ca2+ in plagioclase feldspar, unlike any of
the other lanthanides, which tend to only form 3+ cations.
Mid-ocean ridge basalts (MORB) and their intrusive equivalents,
gabbros, are the characteristic igneous rocks formed at mid-ocean
ridges. They are tholeiitic basalts particularly low in total alkalis
and in incompatible trace elements, and they have relatively flat rare
earth element (REE) patterns normalized to mantle or chondrite values.
In contrast, alkali basalts have normalized patterns highly enriched
in the light REE, and with greater abundances of the REE and of other
incompatible elements. Because MORB basalt is considered a key to
understanding plate tectonics, its compositions have been much
studied. Although MORB compositions are distinctive relative to
average compositions of basalts erupted in other environments, they
are not uniform. For instance, compositions change with position along
the Mid-Atlantic ridge, and the compositions also define different
ranges in different ocean basins.
Mid-ocean ridge basalts have
been subdivided into varieties such as normal (NMORB) and those
slightly more enriched in incompatible elements (EMORB).
Isotope ratios of elements such as strontium, neodymium, lead,
hafnium, and osmium in basalts have been much studied to learn about
the evolution of the Earth's mantle. Isotopic ratios of noble gases,
such as 3He/4He, are also of great value: for instance, ratios for
basalts range from 6 to 10 for mid-ocean ridge tholeiitic basalt
(normalized to atmospheric values), but to 15–24 and more for
ocean-island basalts thought to be derived from mantle plumes.
Source rocks for the partial melts probably include both peridotite
and pyroxenite (e.g., Sobolev et al., 2007).
Morphology and textures
An active basalt lava flow
The shape, structure and texture of a basalt is diagnostic of how and
where it erupted—whether into the sea, in an explosive cinder
eruption or as creeping pahoehoe lava flows, the classic image of
Hawaiian basalt eruptions.
Basalt that erupts under open air (that is, subaerially) forms three
distinct types of lava or volcanic deposits: scoria; ash or cinder
(breccia); and lava flows.
Basalt in the tops of subaerial lava flows and cinder cones will often
be highly vesiculated, imparting a lightweight "frothy" texture to the
rock. Basaltic cinders are often red, coloured by oxidized iron from
weathered iron-rich minerals such as pyroxene.
ʻAʻā types of blocky, cinder and breccia flows of thick, viscous
basaltic lava are common in Hawaii. Pāhoehoe is a highly fluid, hot
form of basalt which tends to form thin aprons of molten lava which
fill up hollows and sometimes forms lava lakes.
Lava tubes are common
features of pahoehoe eruptions.
Basaltic tuff or pyroclastic rocks are rare but not unknown. Usually
basalt is too hot and fluid to build up sufficient pressure to form
explosive lava eruptions but occasionally this will happen by trapping
of the lava within the volcanic throat and buildup of volcanic gases.
Mauna Loa volcano erupted in this way in the 19th century, as
did Mount Tarawera, New Zealand in its violent 1886 eruption. Maar
volcanoes are typical of small basalt tuffs, formed by explosive
eruption of basalt through the crust, forming an apron of mixed basalt
and wall rock breccia and a fan of basalt tuff further out from the
Amygdaloidal structure is common in relict vesicles and beautifully
crystallized species of zeolites, quartz or calcite are frequently
Columnar jointed basalt in Turkey
Main article: Columnar jointing
See also: List of places with columnar basalt
During the cooling of a thick lava flow, contractional joints or
fractures form. If a flow cools relatively rapidly, significant
contraction forces build up. While a flow can shrink in the vertical
dimension without fracturing, it can't easily accommodate shrinking in
the horizontal direction unless cracks form; the extensive fracture
network that develops results in the formation of columns. The
topology of the lateral shapes of these columns can broadly be classed
as a random cellular network. These structures are predominantly
hexagonal in cross-section, but polygons with three to twelve or more
sides can be observed. The size of the columns depends loosely on
the rate of cooling; very rapid cooling may result in very small
(<1 cm diameter) columns, while slow cooling is more likely to
produce large columns.
Main article: Submarine eruption
Pillow basalts on the south Pacific seafloor
Outcrop of a pillow basalt, Italy
Main article: Pillow lava
When basalt erupts underwater or flows into the sea, contact with the
water quenches the surface and the lava forms a distinctive pillow
shape, through which the hot lava breaks to form another pillow. This
"pillow" texture is very common in underwater basaltic flows and is
diagnostic of an underwater eruption environment when found in ancient
rocks. Pillows typically consist of a fine-grained core with a glassy
crust and have radial jointing. The size of individual pillows varies
from 10 cm up to several meters.
When pahoehoe lava enters the sea it usually forms pillow basalts.
However, when a'a enters the ocean it forms a littoral cone, a small
cone-shaped accumulation of tuffaceous debris formed when the blocky
a'a lava enters the water and explodes from built-up steam.
The island of
Surtsey in the Atlantic
Ocean is a basalt volcano which
breached the ocean surface in 1963. The initial phase of Surtsey's
eruption was highly explosive, as the magma was quite fluid, causing
the rock to be blown apart by the boiling steam to form a tuff and
cinder cone. This has subsequently moved to a typical pahoehoe-type
Volcanic glass may be present, particularly as rinds on rapidly
chilled surfaces of lava flows, and is commonly (but not exclusively)
associated with underwater eruptions.
Pillow basalt is also produced by some subglacial volcanic eruptions.
Life on basaltic rocks
The common corrosion features of underwater volcanic basalt suggest
that microbial activity may play a significant role in the chemical
exchange between basaltic rocks and seawater. The significant amounts
of reduced iron, Fe(II), and manganese, Mn(II), present in basaltic
rocks provide potential energy sources for bacteria. Some
Fe(II)-oxidizing bacteria cultured from iron-sulfide surfaces are also
able to grow with basaltic rock as a source of Fe(II). Fe- and Mn-
oxidizing bacteria have been cultured from weathered submarine basalts
of Loihi Seamount. The impact of bacteria on altering the chemical
composition of basaltic glass (and thus, the oceanic crust) and
seawater suggest that these interactions may lead to an application of
hydrothermal vents to the origin of life.
On Earth, most basalt magmas have formed by decompression melting of
Basalt commonly erupts on Io (the third largest moon of
Jupiter), and has also formed on the Moon, Mars, Venus, and the
The crustal portions of oceanic tectonic plates are composed
predominantly of basalt, produced from upwelling mantle below, the
Paraná Traps, Brazil
Basalt is one of the most common rock types in the world.
the rock most typical of large igneous provinces. The largest
occurrences of basalt are in the ocean floor that is almost completely
made up by basalt. Above sea level basalt is common in hotspot islands
and around volcanic arcs, specially those on thin crust. However, the
largest volumes of basalt on land correspond to continental flood
basalts. Continental flood basalts are known to exist in the Deccan
Traps in India, the
Chilcotin Group in British Columbia, Canada, the
Paraná Traps in Brazil, the
Siberian Traps in Russia, the
basalt province in South Africa, the
Columbia River Plateau
Columbia River Plateau of
Washington and Oregon.
Many archipelagoes and island nations have an overwhelming majority of
its exposed bedrock made up by basalt due to being above hotspots, for
Iceland and Hawaii.
Precambrian basalts are usually only found in fold and thrust
belts, and are often heavily metamorphosed. These are known as
greenstone belts, because low-grade metamorphism of basalt produces
chlorite, actinolite, epidote and other green minerals.
Engraving of a basalt formation. From: Alberto Fortis, Della valle
vulcanico-marina di Roncà nel territorio veronese. (1778)
Basalt rocks near Detunata Goală east of Bucium, Romania
Basalt rocks on the Hirtstein in the
Bühren Organ Pipes
Basalt columns of Porto Santo, Archipelago of Madeira
Swabian Jura, in the area of the Swabian Volcano
Vogelsberg;(The greatest contiguous basalt massif in Central Europe)
Bohemian Central Uplands
Bohemian Central Uplands (České středohoří)
Lusatian Mountains (Luzicke hory)
Doupov Mountains (Doupovske hory)
Nature reserve of Ryžovna
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Ardèche, Cascade du Ray-Pic
Lesotho and other African states
Columbia Gorge (Washington/Oregon, USA)
Basalt is a common rock on all terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus,
Mars) and the Moon. Many meteorites have the same chemical composition
Lunar and Martian basalt
Lunar olivine basalt collected by Apollo 15.
The dark areas visible on Earth's moon, the lunar maria, are plains of
flood basaltic lava flows. These rocks were sampled by the manned
American Apollo program, the robotic Russian Luna program, and are
represented among the lunar meteorites.
Lunar basalts differ from their Earth counterparts principally in
their high iron contents, which typically range from about 17 to 22
wt% FeO. They also possess a wide range of titanium concentrations
(present in the mineral ilmenite), ranging from less than 1 wt%
TiO2, to about 13 wt.%. Traditionally, lunar basalts have been
classified according to their titanium content, with classes being
named high-Ti, low-Ti, and very-low-Ti. Nevertheless, global
geochemical maps of titanium obtained from the Clementine mission
demonstrate that the lunar maria possess a continuum of titanium
concentrations, and that the highest concentrations are the least
Lunar basalts show exotic textures and mineralogy, particularly shock
metamorphism, lack of the oxidation typical of terrestrial basalts,
and a complete lack of hydration. Most of the Moon's basalts erupted
between about 3 and 3.5 billion years ago, but the oldest samples are
4.2 billion years old, and the youngest flows, based on the age dating
method of crater counting, are estimated to have erupted only 1.2
billion years ago.
Basalt is also a common rock on the surface of Mars, as determined by
data sent back from the planet's surface, and by Martian
Alteration of basalt
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Basalt structures in Namibia
Basalts are important rocks within metamorphic belts, as they can
provide vital information on the conditions of metamorphism within the
Metamorphosed basalts are important hosts for a variety of
hydrothermal ore deposits, including gold deposits, copper deposits,
volcanogenic massive sulfide ore deposits and others.
Main article: Weathering
Compared to other rocks found on Earth's surface, basalts weather
relatively fast. The typically iron-rich minerals oxidise rapidly in
water and air, staining the rock a brown to red colour due to iron
oxide (rust). Chemical weathering also releases readily water-soluble
cations such as calcium, sodium and magnesium, which give basaltic
areas a strong buffer capacity against acidification.
by basalts binds up CO2 from the atmosphere forming CaCO3 acting thus
as a CO2 trap. To this it must be added that the eruption of basalt
itself is often associated with the release of large quantities of CO2
into the atmosphere from volcanic gases.
Basalt is used in construction (e.g. as building blocks or in the
groundwork), making cobblestones (from columnar basalt) and in making
statues. Heating and extruding basalt yields stone wool, said to be an
excellent thermal insulator.
Carbon sequestration in basalt has been studied as a means of removing
carbon dioxide, produced by human industrialization, from the
atmosphere. Underwater basalt deposits, scattered in seas around the
globe, have the added benefit of the water serving as a barrier to the
re-release of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Basalt.
Basalt fan structure
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Basalt in Northern Ireland
PetDB, the Petrological Database
Petrology of Lunar Rocks and Mare Basalts
Pillow lava USGS
Common igneous rocks classified by silicon dioxide content
Komatiite, Picrite basalt
Types of basalts
Basalts by tectonic setting
Mid-ocean ridge basalt
Ocean island basalt
Volcanic arc basalt
Basalts by form and flow
Basalts by chemistry
List and volcanoes groups
Lists of volcanoes