The Elements of Geology eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 328 pages of information about The Elements of Geology.

Spherulites, which also mark the first changes of glassy lavas toward a stony condition, are little balls within the rock, varying from microscopic size to several inches in diameter, and made up of radiating fibers.

Perlitic structure, common among glassy lavas, consists of microscopic curving and interlacing cracks, due to contraction.

Flow lines are exhibited by volcanic rocks both to the naked eye and under the microscope.  Steam blebs, together with crystals and their embryonic forms, are left arranged in lines and streaks by the currents of the flowing lava as it stiffened into rock.

Porphyritic structure.  Rocks whose ground mass has scattered through it large conspicuous crystals are said to be porphyritic, and it is especially among volcanic rocks that this structure occurs.  The ground mass of porphyries either may be glassy or may consist in part of a felt of minute crystals; in either case it represents the consolidation of the rock after its outpouring upon the surface.  On the other hand, the large crystals of porphyry have slowly formed deep below the ground at an earlier date.

Columnar structure.  Just as wet starch contracts on drying to prismatic forms, so lava often contracts on cooling to a mass of close-set, prismatic, and commonly six-sided columns, which stand at right angles to the cooling surface.  The upper portion of a flow, on rapid cooling from the surface exposed to the air, may contract to a confused mass of small and irregular prisms; while the remainder forms large and beautifully regular columns, which have grown upward by slow cooling from beneath.


Rocks weighing many tons are often thrown from a volcano at the beginning of an outburst by the breaking up of the solidofied floor of the crater; and during the progress of an eruption large blocks may be torn from the throat of the volcano by the outrush of steam.  But the most important fragmental materials are those derived from the lava itself.  As lava rises in the pipe, the steam which permeates it is released from pressure and explodes, hurling the lava into the air in fragments of all sizes,—­large pieces of scoria, LAPILLI (fragments the size of a pea or walnut), volcanic “sand” and volcanic “ashes.”  The latter resemble in appearance the ashes of wood or coal, but they are not in any sense, like them, a residue after combustion.

Volcanic ashes are produced in several ways:  lava rising in the volcanic duct is exploded into fine dust by the steam which permeates it; glassy lava, hurled into the air and cooled suddenly, is brought into a state of high strain and tension, and, like Prince Rupert’s drops, flies to pieces at the least provocation.  The clash of rising and falling projectiles also produces some dust, a fair sample of which may be made by grating together two pieces of pumice.

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The Elements of Geology from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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