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Definition of Batholith

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Batholith comes from Greek culture. Batho means depth, and litho is rock. So, batholith is a large mass of intrusive igneous rock that can be as large as 100 square km. Usually, these rocks are a formation of cooled magma deep in the Earth’s crust. The maximum of batholiths is made of felsic or intermediate rock types like quartz monzonite, granite, or diorite.

Process of Formation of Batholith Rock

The formation of batholith rocks involves complex compositions and histories though they appear uniform. Multiple masses or plutons are bodies of igneous rocks of irregular dimensions (several km) that can be identified by some criteria like age, texture, composition, or mappable structures. Magma travel from the zone of partial melting towards the Earth’s crust that forms solid individual plutons.

These plutons arise from large masses called plutonic diapirs. The diapirs are hot and liquefied and hence can burst through surrounding rocks, pushing them aside and going through partial melting. Based on their force, they settle just below the ground at about 5 to 30 km instead of bursting above the surface like a volcano. Therefore they are mentioned as plutons (Roman god of underworld Pluto). The other consideration about plutons is that they are not evolved from larger magma diapirs but from aggressive smaller volumes of magma that rise like dikes.

When many plutons come up together, they form a huge granitic rock. Some batholiths are spread over hundreds of kilometers in the continental crust. Sierra Nevada Batholith is an example of such batholiths. It covers most parts of the Sierra Nevada in California. A bigger batholith than this is the Coast Plutonic Complex that is mostly found in the Coast Mountains of Western Canada. It is known to be spread about 1800 km and reaches up to southeastern Alaska. 

Erosion and Geology: 

Continuous plutonic rocks that cover an area of 100 sq km or more than that are called batholith, whereas those with an area less than 100 sq km are called stocks. However, most of the visible batholiths on the surface are spread on far more than 100 sq km area. The continental uplift of the erosion process working from ages acts upon these areas to expose them. Over many years, several tens of sq km of overlying rocks are removed in many areas. 

The result of a big pressure difference when the batholiths were down underground and when they are exposed on the surface is little expansion of their crystal structure. This leads them to form a mass wasting called exfoliation. This tends to rocks becoming convex and thin sheets of rocks to slough off the exposed surfaces. The rock faces become clean and rounded. An example of this is Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. 

From the Batholith Diagram, we can understand it thoroughly. 

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Batholith and Laccolith:

We have learned about batholiths till now. We will now discuss laccolith. A laccolith is a type of rock that appears with sheet-like intrusions which are injected within the layers of sedimentary rocks. This is the result of the movement of strata of the sedimentary rock upward or makes them fold when the magma pressure is high enough. This is the reason why laccoliths appear dome shape or mushroom-like with a plain base. 

Erosion of these rocks makes small hills, a central peak, or a mountain. Magma rocks are highly weather-resistant. The formation of laccolith is usually quicker.

Difference Between Batholith and Laccolith:

A large mass of igneous rock forms a batholith, while laccolith is sheet-like intrusions injected within the layers of sedimentary rocks. 

Batholith occurs as individual igneous intrusive rock, while laccolith occurs as an intrusion in sedimentary rocks.

Batholiths form when many plutons get together to form a granitic rock, and laccolith forms when high-pressure magma move the strata of sedimentary rocks.

The batholith is a large irregular mass of intrusive igneous rocks that forces themselves in surrounding strata, and laccolith is a mass of igneous or volcanic rock within strata.

Batholith and laccoliths are part of igneous rocks and volcanic landforms. There are many other features, some of which we can quickly review –

Lava Flow: They are streams of extremely hot lava pouring out of a volcanic vent or fissure. Sometimes the flow pressure may be so high that it can erupt high in the air and flow in surrounding areas melting everything in its way.

Fissure: A fissure can be a long crack on Earth’s surface through which the lava erupts out. This is called a fissure eruption. 

Volcanic Neck: This landform occurs when the magma solidifies inside a conduit leading to a volcano vent. Softer rocks get eroded, but this being stronger, it stands above the surface. 

Volcanic Cone: These are steep-sided hills or mountains built with layers of erupted lava flows. It is cone-shaped and usually light or dark-coloured.

Volcanic Pipe: It is a pipe-type outlet for lava eruption when the surrounding underground surface is too hard. This will be weaker and hence allow lava to get pushed up. After the process, it becomes a solidified magma of a hard, cylindrical shape.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is a Batholith, and Where is it Located?

Ans: Batholiths are landforms of volcanic activity. They have spread over 100 sq km area and mostly much more than that. Batholiths are individual intrusive igneous rocks that form once the lava is cooled and settled, as there are many geological compositions in the complex manners which play a role in the process. They are made of plutons which are several km in diameter. They are located all over the world with tens of hundreds of sq km area covered. 

2. How Do Batholiths Become Visible on Earth’s Surface?

Ans:  Batholiths are not made due to continuous magmatic intrusion; rather, they are made up of repeated intrusions. Most of the batholiths are made of multiple individual plutons. The batholiths are initially cooled up to 5 to 30 km below Earth’s crust. Years later, they appear on Earth’s surface due to erosion. As they are cooled below Earth’s surface, they form a coarse-grained texture of the granitic composition. During the subduction period, batholiths appear near continental margins. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are made up of granitic batholiths.