EarthWord: Graben

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A graben is a piece of Earth’s crust that is shifted downward in comparison to adjacent crust known as “horsts,” which are shifted upward.

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Aerial view of the Grabens, Canyonlands National Park
Aerial view of Grabens at Canyonlands National Park. Credit: NPS/Neal Herbert

Definition:

  • A graben is a piece of Earth’s crust that is shifted downward in comparison to adjacent crust known as “horsts,” which are shifted upward.

Etymology:

  • Comes from the German word “Graben,” which means “a ditch.”

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:

  • Grabens and horsts indicate that the earth’s crust has been extended or pulled in opposite directions.  The word graben comes from the German word for “ditch.”  In 2012, grabens were found on the surface of the moon by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

USGS Use:

  • The geologic composition of the North Sea Graben is assessed in this 2005 USGS study.  
  • A helpful animation, produced by the USGS, on the difference between a graben and a horst.

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