Crust (geology)

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geology and geophysics

Earth cutaway from core to exosphere.
Earth cutaway from core to exosphere.

In geology, a crust is the outermost layer of a planet, part of its lithosphere. Planetary crusts are generally composed of a less dense material than that of its deeper layers. The crust of the Earth is composed mainly of basalt and granite. It is cooler and more rigid than the deeper layers of the mantle and core.

On stratified planets, such as Earth, the lithosphere is floating on fluid interior layers. Because of convection in the plastic, although non-molten, upper mantle and asthenosphere, the lithosphere is broken into tectonic plates that move. Oceanic crust is different from that of the continents. The oceanic crust ( sima) is 5 to 10 km thick and is composed primarily of a dark, dense rock called basalt. The continental crust ( sial) is 20-70 km deep and is composed of a variety of less dense rocks. The crust's temperature ranges from the air temperature to about 900°C near the upper mantle.

Origin of the Earth's Crust

The Earth is considered to have differentiated from an aggregate of planetesimals into its core, mantle and crust within ~100 million years of the formation of the planet, at 4.4 billion years ago. The primordial crust was very thin, and was likely recycled by much more vigorous plate tectonics and destroyed by significant asteroid impacts, which were much more common in the early stages of the solar system. Of particular note is a theory that the moon was formed by one such very large impact.

The Earth has likely always had some form of basaltic oceanic crust, but there is evidence that it has also had continental style crust for as long as 3.8 to 3.9 billion years. The oldest crust on Earth is the Narryer Gneiss Terrane in Western Australia at 3.9 Ga, and certain parts of the Canadian Shield and the Fennoscandian Shield are also of this age.

The majority of the current Earth's continental crust was formed primarily between 4.6 billion years and 3.9 billion years before present, in the Hadean. The vast majority of rocks of this age are located in cratons where the crust is up to 70km thick. The lower density of the continental crust as compared to the oceanic crust prevents it being destroyed by subduction. Crust formation is linked to periods of intense orogeny or mountain building; these periods coincide with the formation of the supercontinents such as Rodinia, Pangaea and Gondwana. The crust forms not so much by accumulation of granite and metamorphic fold belts, but by depletion of the mantle to form buoyant lithospheric mantle.

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