Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Thermal influences on spontaneous rock dome exfoliation

March 2, 2018

Rock domes, with their onion-skin layers of exfoliation sheets, are among the most captivating landforms on Earth. Long recognized as integral in shaping domes, the exact mechanism(s) by which exfoliation occurs remains enigmatic, mainly due to the lack of direct observations of natural events. In August 2014, during the hottest days of summer, a granitic dome in California, USA, spontaneously exfoliated; witnesses observed extensive cracking, including a ~8000 kg sheet popping into the air. Subsequent exfoliation episodes during the following two summers were recorded by instrumentation that captured—for the first time—exfoliation deformation and stress conditions. Here we show that thermal cycling and cumulative dome surface heating can induce subcritical cracking that culminates in seemingly spontaneous exfoliation. Our results indicate that thermal stresses—largely discounted in dome formation literature—can play a key role in triggering exfoliation and therefore may be an important control for shaping domes worldwide.

Publication Year 2018
Title Thermal influences on spontaneous rock dome exfoliation
DOI 10.1038/s41467-017-02728-1
Authors Brian D. Collins, Greg M. Stock, Martha C. Eppes, Scott W. Lewis, Skye C. Corbett, Joel B. Smith
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Nature Communications
Index ID 70195786
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center