Batholith: Definition & Formation

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  • 0:03 Definition of a Batholith
  • 0:55 Formation and…
  • 1:53 Process
  • 2:38 Examples of Batholiths
  • 3:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Rebert

Suzanne has taught college economics, geography, and statistics, and has master's degrees in agricultural economics and marine affairs (marine resource management).

Red-hot giants form deep within the Earth's crust -- you could be living on top of a former one right now. In this lesson you will read about the huge igneous formations known as batholiths and how they form.

Definition of a Batholith

Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park, is a landmark recognized worldwide and beloved by rock climbers everywhere. Its spectacular shape is characteristic of the vast igneous formations known as batholiths.

A batholith is a very large mass of intrusive igneous rock that forms and cools deep in the Earth's crust. An igneous rock is a type of rock formed through the cooling of lava or magma. The term 'batholith' comes from the Greek words bathos, meaning 'depth,' and lithos, meaning 'rock.' In order for an intrusion to be called a batholith, the exposed area showing at the Earth's surface should be at least 100 square kilometers, though some of these formations are much larger than that.

Formation and Structure of a Batholith

Although from a distance a batholith may just look like a huge lump of rock, it has an internal structure and history that can be very complicated. A batholith is made up of many individual plutons, which are smaller bodies of rock that, while still molten, traveled up through the crust to their present position. Each pluton is typically several kilometers in diameter.

If the resulting exposed rock mass is too small to be called a batholith, geologists often refer to it as a stock. Most batholiths are composed of felsic rock, such as granite, which is less dense than mafic rock, like basalt; this, along with its heat, is what allows the rock to rise. Many batholithic mountains you may have seen are smooth and rounded - this is because the stresses within the rock cause it to erode in sheets, or exfoliate, like the skin of an onion.

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