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Architectural Terms in Geology


Geology has always been a borrower science, adopting words from other fields and other languages. Many geologists, in studying the structure of the landscape and the Earth's crust beneath, borrowed concepts from the building industry to describe geologic features.

Here's a set of geologic words that come from the discipline of architecture.

arch—A structure created by uplift, with a convex-upward cross section; a large anticline. (photo)

buttress—A spur or projection on the side of a mountain.

castellated—Shaped like a battlement or tower.

colonnade—Part of the internal structure of a thick basalt flow with columnar jointing. (photo)

cornice—An overhanging ledge of snow or rock at the top of a cliff.

cupola—The dome-shaped top of an intrusion.

dome—Any of various round features with uplifted centers.

entablature—The upper part of a thick basalt flow, above the colonnade.

fluting—Large grooves or corrugations, formed by weathering in rock or by scouring or gouging in sediment.

mullion structure—A corrugated texture in metamorphosed rocks resembling the frames of tall church windows.

palisade—An exposure of basalt columns resembling the log walls of a wooden fort. (photo)

pedestal—A type of hoodoo with a wide top. (photo)

pediment—The rock slope at the base of a mountain front in arid country, named after the roof of a portico in classic Greek buildings.

pendant—A formation attached to the inside of a dome, such as a stalactite in a cave or a remnant of country rock on the roof of a batholith.

shelf—The wide, flat underwater regions at the edges of many continents.

sill—A horizontal intrusion, like the slab beneath a window. (photo)

tectonics—Large-scale architecture, from a word denoting the arts of builders.

terrace—A long, narrow, level surface built by deposition or erosion. (photo)

tessera—A type of region on the planet Venus that resembles the broken-up surface of mosaics. (photo)

window—Part of a thrust sheet that is eroded to reveal the rocks beneath (also called a fenster or fenêtre). Also, any of various openings such as the space beneath a natural bridge or an opening in the roof of a lava tube.

PS: For a more fanciful look at the interaction of landscape and architecture, take a look at the Architectural Geology page written by photographer Mark Citret.

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