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Gneiss rock
Augen gneiss from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Granitic gneiss from Enfield, New York

Gneiss /ˈns/ is a common and widely distributed type of rock formed by high-grade regional metamorphic processes from pre-existing formations that were originally either igneous or sedimentary rocks. It is often foliated (composed of layers of sheet-like planar structures). The foliations are characterized by alternating darker and lighter colored bands, called "gneissic banding".


The etymology of the word gneiss is disputed. Sources say it comes from the Middle High German verb gneist (to spark; so called because the rock glitters). It has occurred in English since at least 1757.[1]


Gneissic rocks are usually medium- to coarse-foliated and are largely recrystallized but do not carry large quantities of micas, chlorite or other platy minerals. Gneisses that are metamorphosed igneous rocks or their equivalent are termed granite gneisses, diorite gneisses, etc. Gneiss rocks may also be named after a characteristic component, such as garnet gneiss, biotite gneiss, albite gneiss, etc. Orthogneiss designates a gneiss derived from an igneous rock, and paragneiss is one from a sedimentary rock.

Not all gneiss rocks have detectable banding however. Kyanite gneiss crystals look like random clumps of kyanite in what is mainly a plagioclase (albite) matrix.

Gneissic banding[edit]

Gneiss appears to be striped in bands, called gneissic banding.[2] The banding is developed under high temperature and pressure conditions.

The minerals are arranged into layers which appear to be bands, when the rock is broken and viewed from the side (in cross section).[2] This is because of a different composition of each layer, or band, called compositional banding. The darker bands have relatively more mafic minerals (those containing relatively more magnesium - Mg, and iron Fe). The lighter bands contain relatively more felsic minerals (silicates, containing relatively more of the lighter elements, such as silicon, oxygen, aluminium, sodium, and potassium).

A common cause of the banding is the subjection of the protolith (the original rock material that undergoes metamorphism) to extreme shearing force, a sliding force similar to the pushing of the top of a deck of cards in one direction, and the bottom of the deck in the other direction.[2] These forces stretch out the rock like a plastic, and the original material is smeared out into sheets.

Some banding is formed from original rock material (protolith) that is subjected to extreme temperature and pressure and is composed of alternating layers of sandstone (lighter) and shale (darker), which is metamorphosed into bands of quartzite and mica.[2]

Another cause of banding is "metamorphic differentiation", which separates different materials into different layers through chemical reactions, a process not fully understood.[2]


Orthogneiss designates a gneiss derived from an igneous rock, and paragneiss is one from a sedimentary rock. Gneissose rocks have properties similar to gneiss.


Most of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland have a bedrock formed from Lewisian gneiss. This bedrock contains rocks that are among the oldest in Europe and indeed the world, having been formed in the Precambrian "super-eon" up to three billion years ago. In addition to the Outer Hebrides, they form basement deposits on the Scottish mainland west of the Moine Thrust and on the islands of Coll and Tiree.[3] These rocks are largely igneous in origin, mixed with metamorphosed marble, quartzite and mica schist with later intrusions of basaltic dykes and granite magma.[4] The gneiss's delicate pink colours are exposed throughout the islands.[5]

Augen gneiss[edit]

Henderson augen gneiss

Augen gneiss, from the German: Augen [ˈaʊɡən], meaning "eyes", is a coarse-grained gneiss resulting from metamorphism of granite, which contains characteristic elliptic or lenticular shear-bound feldspar porphyroclasts, normally microcline, within the layering of the quartz, biotite and magnetite bands.

Archean and Proterozoic gneiss[edit]

Archean and Proterozoic gneisses appear in Scandinavia (the Baltic Shield).

Henderson Gneiss[edit]

Henderson Gneiss is located in North Carolina and South Carolina, USA, east of the Brevard Shear Zone. It has deformed into two sequential forms. The second more warped form is associated with the Brevard Fault and the first deformation results from displacement to the southwest.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ a b c d e Essentials of Geology, 3rd Ed, Stephen Marshak
  3. ^ Gillen (2003) page 44.
  4. ^ McKirdy et al. (2007) page 95.
  5. ^ Murray (1966) p. 2
  6. ^ Kinematics of Late Paleozoic Continental Collision Between Laurentia and GondwanaScience, December 21, 1990, v. 250, p. 1702-1705


External links[edit]