Columnar jointing

Columnar jointing is a geological structure where sets of intersecting closely spaced fractures, referred to as joints, result in the formation of a regular array of polygonal prisms, or columns. Columnar jointing occurs in many types of igneous rocks and forms as the rock cools and contracts. Columnar jointing can occur in cooling lava flows and ashflow tuffs (ignimbrites), as well as in some shallow intrusions.[1] Columnar jointing also occurs rarely in sedimentary rocks if they have been heated by nearby hot magma.

Columnar jointing in Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland
Columnar jointing in the Alcantara Gorge, Sicily

The columns can vary from 3 meters to a few centimeters in diameter, and can be as much as 30 meters tall.[1] They are typically parallel and straight, but can also be curved and vary in diameter.[1] An array of regular, straight, and larger-diameter columns is called a colonnade; an irregular, less-straight, and smaller-diameter array is termed an entablature.[2] The number of sides of the individual columns can vary from 3 to 8, with 6 sides being the most common.[1]

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