Batholith

Monday, July 12, 2010

A batholith is a large emplacement of igneous intrusive rock that forms from cooled magma deep in the earth's crust. Batholiths are almost always made mostly of felsic or intermediate rock-types, such as granite, quartz monzonite, or diorite. A batholith is an exposed area of mostly continuous plutonic rock that covers an area larger than 100 square kilometers. Areas smaller than 100 square kilometers are called stocks. However, the majority of batholiths visible at the surface have areas far greater than 100 square kilometers. These areas are exposed to the surface through the process of erosion accelerated by continental uplift acting over many tens of millions to hundreds of millions of years. This process has removed several tens of square kilometers of overlying rock in many areas, exposing the once deeply buried batholiths.

A batholith is formed when many plutons converge to form a huge expanse of granitic rock. Some batholiths are mammoth, paralleling past and present subduction zones and other heat sources for hundreds of kilometers in continental crust. One such batholith is the Sierra Nevada Batholith, which is a continuous granitic formation that makes up much of the Sierra Nevada in California. An even larger batholith, the Coast Plutonic Complex is found predominantly in the Coast Mountains of western Canada, and extends for 1,800 kilometers and reaches into southeastern Alaska.

Batholiths may appear uniform, but they are in fact structures with complex compositions. They are composed of multiple bodies of igneous rock of irregular dimensions, typically at least several kilometers, that can be distinguished from adjacent igneous rock by some combination of criteria including age, composition, texture, or mappable structures. Individual plutons are crystallized from magma that traveled toward the surface from a zone of partial melting near the base of the Earth's crust.