Reading: Identifying Igneous Rocks

Igneous rocks can be distinguished from sedimentary rocks by the lack of beds, lack of fossils, and lack of rounded grains in igneous rocks, and the presence of igneous textures. A granite, for example, can be distinguished from a sandstone because rather than being a mixture of weathered, rounded grains compressed and cemented together, granite consists of a small number of minerals in shiny black, white, or pink colors, with excellent crystal forms, grown together into a completely interlocking pattern. Sandstones, by contrast, have sedimentary bedding (layers) and consist of rounded grains with some spaces between the grains, which you can see with a hand lens or magnifying glass.

Igneous rocks can be distinguished from most regional metamorphic rocks by the lack of foliation (layering) in igneous rocks. Unfoliated metamorphic rocks lack igneous textures and usually contain minerals not found in igneous rocks.

Granite may look like gneiss at first glance, but granite has no layering, no preferred orientation of the minerals. The minerals in a granite grow randomly in all directions, rather than tending to grow parallel to each other.

Igneous rocks are classified on the basis of their texture and their composition. See the previous sections for descriptions of the different igneous textures and compositions.

The igneous rock classification tables that accompany this section are arranged on the basis of igneous textures first, and further broken down on the basis of igneous composition. Remember that igneous composition is estimated on the basis of color: light = felsic composition, medium = intermediate composition, and dark = mafic composition.

Watch this video for an example of identifying igneous rocks: