In geology and related fields, a stratum (plural: strata) is a layer of sedimentary rock or soil, or igneous rock that was formed at the Earth's surface, with internally consistent characteristics that distinguish it from other layers. The "stratum" is the fundamental unit in a stratigraphic column and forms the basis of the study of stratigraphy. A stratum can be seen in almost every single country in the world.
Each layer is generally one of a number of parallel layers that lie one upon another, laid down by natural processes. They may extend over hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of the Earth's surface. Strata are typically seen as bands of different colored or differently structured material exposed in cliffs, road cuts, quarries, and river banks. Individual bands may vary in thickness from a few millimeters to a kilometer or more. A band may represent a specific mode of deposition: river silt, beach sand, coal swamp, sand dune, lava bed, etc.
Geologists study rock strata and categorize them by the material of beds. Each distinct layer is typically assigned a name, usually based on a town, river, mountain, or region where the formation is exposed and available for study. For example, the Burgess Shale is a thick exposure of dark, occasionally fossiliferous, shale exposed high in the Canadian Rockies near Burgess Pass. Slight distinctions in material in a formation may be described as "members" (or sometimes "beds"). Formations are collected into "groups" while groups may be collected into "supergroups".
- Strata on a mountain face in the French Alps
- Rock strata at Depot Beach, New South Wales
- Rainbow Basin Syncline in the Barstow Formation near Barstow, California. Folded strata.
- Outcrop of Upper Ordovician limestone and minor shale, central Tennessee.
- Chalk Layers in Cyprus - showing classic layered structure.
- Heavy minerals (dark) as thin strata in a quartz beach sand (Chennai, India).
- "stratification | geology". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-10-23.