Engineering geology

Tabular Intrusive Bodies: Dikes and Sills

Dikes and Sills Tabular intrusive bodies are produced when magma is forcibly injected into a fracture or zone of weakness, such as a bedding surface. Dikes are discordant bodies that form when magma is forcibly injected into fractures and cut across bedding surfaces and other structures in the host rock. By contrast, sills are nearly horizontal, concordant bodies that form when magma exploits weaknesses between sedimentary beds or other rock structures (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Sill exposed in Sinbad Country, Utah

In general, dikes serve as tabular conduits that transport magma upward, whereas sills tend to accumulate magma and increase in thickness. Dikes and sills are typically shallow features, occurring where the country rocks are sufficiently brittle to fracture. They can range in thickness from less than 1 millimeter to more than 1 kilometer. While dikes and sills can occur as solitary bodies, dikes tend to form in roughly parallel groups called dike swarms. These multiple structures reflect the tendency for fractures to form in sets when tensional forces pull apart brittle country rock. Dikes can also radiate from an eroded volcanic neck, like spokes on a wheel. In these situations, the active ascent of magma generated fissures in the volcanic cone out of which lava flowed. Dikes frequently are more resistant and thus weather more slowly than the surrounding rock. Consequently, when exposed by erosion, dikes tend to have a wall-like appearance, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Dike exposed in the Spanish Peaks, Colorado

Because dikes and sills are relatively uniform in thickness and can extend for many kilometers, they are assumed to be the product of very fluid, and therefore mobile, magmas. One of the largest and most studied of all sills in the United States is the Palisades Sill. Exposed for 80 kilometers (50 miles) along the west bank of the Hudson River in southeastern New York and northeastern New Jersey, this sill is about 300 meters (1000 feet) thick. Because it is resistant to erosion, the Palisades Sill forms an imposing cliff that can be easily seen from the opposite side of the Hudson.

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