An unconformity is a buried erosion surface separating two rock masses or strata of different ages, indicating that sediment deposition was not continuous. In general, the older layer was exposed to erosion for an interval of time before deposition of the younger, but the term is used to describe any break in the sedimentary geologic record. The phenomenon of angular unconformities was discovered by James Hutton, who found examples at Jedburgh in 1787 and at Siccar Point in 1788.
The rocks above an unconformity are younger than the rocks beneath (unless the sequence has been overturned). An unconformity represents time during which no sediments were deposited and the local record for that time interval is missing and geologists must use other clues to discover that part of the geologic history of that area. The interval of geologic time not represented is called a hiatus. There are four types of unconformities: disconformity, nonconformity, angular unconformity and paraconformity.
DisconformityAn unconformity between parallel layers of sedimentary rocks which represents a period of erosion or non-deposition. A paraconformity is a type of disconformity in which the separation is a simple bedding plane; i.e., there is no obvious buried erosional surface.(AGI, 366) A blended unconformity is a type of disconformity or nonconformity with no distinct separation plane or contact, sometimes consisting of soils, paleosols, or beds of pebbles derived from the underlying rock.
NonconformityA nonconformity exists between sedimentary rocks and metamorphic or igneous rocks when the sedimentary rock lies above and was deposited on the pre-existing and eroded metamorphic or igneous rock.
Angular UnconformityAn unconformity where horizontally parallel strata of sedimentary rock are deposited on tilted and eroded layers that may be either vertical or at an angle to the overlying horizontal layers. The whole sequence may later be deformed and tilted by further orogenic activity.
ParaconformityAn unconformity where beds above and below are parallel and no erosional surface is evident. Paraconformity can only be recognized based on the gap in the rock record when rocks of a particular age are absent from the sequence of rocks.
- American Geological Institute. Dictionary of Geological Terms. New York: Dolphin Books, 1962.
- U.S. Bureau of Mines Dictionary of Mining, Mineral, and Related Terms published on CD-ROM in 1996.
unconformity in German: Diskordanz
unconformity in Estonian: Põiksus
unconformity in Spanish: Discordancia (geología)
unconformity in Croatian: Diskordancija
unconformity in Italian: Discontinuità stratigrafica
unconformity in Dutch: Discordantie
unconformity in Serbian: Дискорданција