Fault blocks are very large blocks of rock, sometimes hundreds of kilometers in extent, created by tectonic and localized stresses in the Earth's crust. Large areas of bedrock are broken up into blocks by faults. Blocks are characterized by relatively uniform lithology. The largest of these fault blocks are called crustal blocks. Large crustal blocks broken off from tectonic plates are called terranes. Those terranes which are the full thickness of the lithosphere are called microplates. Continent-sized blocks are called variously microcontinents, continental ribbons, H-blocks, extensional allochthons and outer highs.
Because most stresses relate to the tectonic activity of moving plates, most motion between blocks is horizontal, that is parallel to the Earth's crust by strike-slip faults. However vertical movement of blocks produces much more dramatic results. Landforms (mountains, hills, ridges, lakes, valleys, etc.) are sometimes formed when the faults have a large vertical displacement. Adjacent raised blocks (horsts) and down-dropped blocks (grabens) can form high escarpments. Often the movement of these blocks is accompanied by tilting, due to compaction or stretching of the crust at that point.
Fault-block mountains often result from rifting, another indicator of tensional tectonic forces. These can be small or form extensive rift valley systems, such as the East African Rift zone. Death Valley in California is a smaller example. Two types of block mountains are lifted and sloped.
Lifted type block mountains have two steep sides exposing both sides scarps, leading to the horst and graben terrain seen in northern Europe, including the Upper Rhine valley, a graben between two horsts, the Vosges mountains (in France) and Black Forest (in Germany). Another graben is the basin of the Narmada River in India, between the Vindhya and Satpura horsts.
- A crustal block may or may not also comprise a tectonostratigraphic terrane that has a specific geologic definition. Bulter, Robert F. (1992) "Chapter 11: Applications to Regional Tectonics" Paleomagnetism: Magnetic Domains to Geologic Terranes Blackwell, pp. 205–223, page 205, archived here by Internet Archive on 26 October 2004
- Péron-Pinvidic1, Gwenn and Manatschal, Gianreto (2010). "From microcontinents to extensional allochthons: witnesses of how continents rift and break apart?". Petroleum Geoscience 16 (3): 189–197. doi:10.1144/1354-079309-903. page 189
- Plummer, Charles, David McGeary, and Diane Carlson. Physical Geology 8th ed. McGraw-Hill, Boston, 1999.
- Monroe, James S., and Reed Wicander. The Changing Earth: Exploring Geology and Evolution. 2nd educational Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 0-314-09577-2 (pp. 234,-8)
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