1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Breccia

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BRECCIA, in petrology, the name given to rocks consisting of angular fragments embedded in a matrix. They may be composed of volcanic rocks, limestones, siliceous charts, sandstones, in fact of any kind of material, and the matrix, which usually corresponds to some extent to the fragments it encloses, may be siliceous, calcareous, argillaceous, &c. The distinctive character of the group is the sharp-edged and unworn shapes of the fragments; in conglomerates the pebbles are rounded and water-worn, having been transported by waves and currents from some distance. There are many ways in which breccias may originate. Some are formed by ordinary processes of atmospheric erosion; frost, rain and gravity break up exposed surfaces of rock and detach pieces of all sizes; in this way screes are formed at the bases of cliffs, and barren mountain-tops are covered with broken débris. If such accumulations gather and are changed into hard rock by pressure and other indurating agencies they make typical breccias. Conglomerates often pass into rocks of this type, the difference being merely that the fragments are of purely local origin, and are unworn because they have not been transported. In caves breccias of limestone are produced by the collapse of part of the roof, covering the floor with broken masses. Coral reefs often contain extensive areas of limestone breccia, formed of detached pieces of rock which have been dislodged from the surface and have been carried down the steep external slopes of the reef. Volcanic breccias are very common near active or extinct craters, as sudden outbursts of steam bear fragments from the older rocks and scatter them over the ground.

Another group of breccias is due to crushing; these are produced in fissures, faults and veins, below the surface, and maybe described as “crush-breccias” and “friction-breccias.” Very important and well-known examples of this class occur as veinstones, which may be metalliferous or not. A fissure is formed, probably by slight crustal movements, and is subsequently filled with material deposited from solution (quartz, calcite, barytes, &c.). Very often displacement of the walls again takes place, and the infilling or “veinstone” is torn apart and brecciated. It may then be cemented together by a further introduction of mineral matter, which may be the same as that first deposited or quite different. In important veins this process is often repeated several times: detached pieces of the country rock are mingled with the shattered veinstone, and generally experience alteration by the percolating mineral solutions. Other crush-breccias occurring on a much larger scale are due to the folding of strata which have unequal plasticities. If, for example, shales and sandstones are bent into a series of arches, the sandstones being harder and more resistant will tend to crack, while the shales, which are soft and flow under great pressures, are injected into the crevices and separate the broken pieces from one another. Continued movement will give the brecciated fragments of sandstone a rounded form by rubbing them against one another, and, in this way, a crush-conglomerate is produced. Great masses of limestone in the Alps, Scottish Highlands, and all regions of intense folding are thus converted into breccias. Cherts frequently also show this structure; igneous rocks less commonly do so; but it is perhaps most common where there have been thin bedded alternations of rocks of different character, such as limestone and dolerite, limestone and quartzite, shale or phyllite and sandstone. Fault-breccias closely resemble vein-breccias, except that usually their fragments consist principally of the rocks which adjoin the fault and not of mineral deposits introduced in solution; but many veins occupy faults, and hence no hard and fast line can be drawn between these types of breccia.

A third group of breccias is due to movement in a partly consolidated igneous rock, and may be called “fluxion-breccias.” Lava streams, especially when they consist of rhyolite, dacite and some kinds of andesite, may rapidly solidify, and then become exceedingly brittle. If any part of the mass is still liquid, it may break up the solid crust by pressure from within and the angular fragments are enveloped by the fluid lava. When the whole comes to rest and cools, it forms a typical “volcanic-fluxion-breccia.” The same phenomena are sometimes exemplified in intrusive sills and sheets. The fissures which are occupied by igneous dikes may be the seat of repeated injections following one another at longer or shorter intervals; and the latter may shatter the earlier dike rocks, catching up the fragments. Among the older formations, especially when decomposition has gone on extensively, these fluxion and injection-breccias are often very hard to distinguish from the commoner volcanic-breccias and ash-beds, which have been produced by weathering, or by the explosive power of superheated steam.  (J. S. F.)