Basalt is a dark-colored, fine-grained, igneous rock composed mainly of plagioclase and pyroxene minerals. It most commonly forms as an extrusive rock, such as a lava flow, but can also form in small intrusive bodies, such as an igneous dike or a thin sill. It has a composition similar to gabbro. The difference between basalt and gabbro is that basalt is a fine-grained rock while gabbro is a coarse-grained rock.
Earth's Most Abundant Bedrock
Basalt underlies more of Earth's surface than any other rock type. Most areas within Earth's ocean basins are underlain by basalt. Although basalt is much less common on continents, lava flows and flood basalts underlie several percent of Earth's land surface. Basalt is a very important rock.
Basalts at Oceanic Divergent Boundaries
Most of Earth's basalt is produced at divergent plate boundaries on the mid-ocean ridge system (see map). Here convection currents deliver hot rock from deep in the mantle. This hot rock melts as the divergent boundary pulls apart, and the molten rock erupts onto the sea floor. These submarine fissure eruptions often produce pillow basalts as shown in the image on this page.
The active mid-ocean ridges host repeated fissure eruptions. Most of this activity is unnoticed because these boundaries are under great depths of water. At these deep locations, any steam, ash, or gas produced is absorbed by the water column and does not reach the surface. Earthquake activity is the only signal to humans that many of these deep ocean ridge eruptions provide. However, Iceland is a location where a mid-ocean ridge has been lifted above sea level. There, people can directly observe this volcanic activity.
Uses of Basalt
Basalt is used for a wide variety of purposes. It is most commonly crushed for use as an aggregate in construction projects. Crushed basalt is used for road base, concrete aggregate, asphalt pavement aggregate, railroad ballast, filter stone in drain fields, and may other purposes. Basalt is also cut into dimension stone. Thin slabs of basalt are cut and sometimes polished for use as floor tiles, building veneer, monuments, and other stone objects.
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