Statemap Field Blog March 24-26, 2014

Taphoni (honeycomb weathering) in massive sandstone.

Taphoni (honeycomb weathering) in massive sandstone.

Hello all!

Sorry about that long hiatus, but I had a couple of extra projects the last couple months that took a lot of extra time.  We’ve been in the field almost every week except for March 3-5 during the 3 inch snow in Van Buren County.  We’ve mostly worked on the Fairfield Bay quad during the last few weeks.  This week was spent tracing a very thick-bedded, massive sandstone unit through the town of Fairfield Bay itself.  It is quite an impressive bluff-former and actually underlies almost the entire Mountain Ranch golf course.

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Danny descending treacherous massive sandstone outcrop

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Danny contemplating how this massive sandstone can all but disappear a few hundred yards north of here

 

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Grotto in massive sandstone

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Most hillsides are composed of a thick sequence of very thin sandstone/siltstone and shale–easily erodible

 

Apparently some structure or perhaps a change in depositional environment made this sandstone climb up 200 feet to the east.  There it forms the cap of the ridge on which the small town of Fairfield Bay sits.  Moving east again, It underlies the Indian Hills Country Club where weathering (and earth-moving equipment) has produced the famous Indian Rock House on the golf course there.  Underlying that massive across the entire area is a very thick sequence of very thin-bedded sandstone/siltstone/shale.  A lot of the roads built in this unit have formed deep gullies making some of them impassable.  Still, there is better access in this area than most that we map, so we’re thankful for that.  Only about two weeks left of the field season.  We’ll probably be jumping around a lot to work out problem areas on both quads during that time.

See you on the outcrop!

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Danny actually seeing through the groundcover to the rock beneath the Mountain Ranch golf course

 

 

 

 

 

Statemap Field Blog, Dec 16-18, 2013

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Hello all!

Well, it’s been a week and a half since the snow came down, and there are plenty of shady areas where it’s still on the ground.  We started out on the east side of the map in Deadland Hollow, even though it was north-facing, because we knew we could get to it fairly easily.  If anything, the snowy areas may even have been a little more treacherous this week, because it’s thawed and frozen so many times that it’s more like solid ice now.  After that we went all the way over to the west side of the map and got a few points in a small drainage south of Weaver Creek.

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On Tuesday we walked from the lake to the top of Dave Creek in an undeveloped part of Fairfield Bay.  Saw some really good worm burrows in a thin- to medium-bedded sandstone  near where the creek reaches the lake.  Some of these burrows crossed bedding planes, so the rate of sedimentation must have been fairly rapid during deposition of this unit.  2013-12-17 0102013-12-17 030

Above that, we were in fairly continuous outcrops of calcareous sandstone, including some beds of “zebra rock” (see previous two posts).  We can only surmise that we are again in the Witts Springs Formation, which is interesting in that it’s still at the surface south of that Weaver Creek/Middle Fork lineation.  This probably means that if the lineation formed due to a fault at the surface, there is minimal offset.  More likely, it indicates the lineation formed along a monocline at the surface perhaps indicating a fault at depth in the basement rock.  Anyway, we had several hundred feet of calcareous sandstone along the creek, some of which exhibited large scale cross-bedding.

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We’re still working on that Bloyd/Witts Springs contact, but probably did cross it somewhere in that upper end.  There may even be some Atoka up there, but if so, it will be in sparse exposures at the very highest elevations.  If the Bloyd proves to be several hundred feet thick here as it has been on other quads to the west, the only Atoka may be on the southern third of the Fairfield Bay quad south of the southwest/northeast lineation that goes through the upper end of Greers Ferry Lake.  This is almost undoubtedly a fault at the surface based on the steep dips we’ve been seeing on the north edge of the lake.

On Wednesday, we started at the lake again and went up a small drainage on the eastern edge of the map.  Had a great view of Sugar Loaf Mountain when we started that morning.

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Well, I hate to say it, but this will be the final blog of this field season.  I have a major test and a GSA field trip to prepare for this spring, so I need to devote all my time to that right now.  It’s been fun to write it, and I hope I’ve given you a better idea of what range of effort goes into making a “simple” geologic map.  We’ll keep going out until mid-April, then we’ll have about 10 weeks in the office to draw and digitize the two maps, add descriptions of the rock units, a cross section, stratigraphic column, joint diagram, and correlation of map units.  If all goes according to plan, we’ll turn the finished maps into the USGS on June 30 to fulfill our grant requirements.  The Shirley and the Fairfield Bay quads should be up on our website as a .pdf by mid-July.  By that time, we’ll be back in the field battling ticks and snakes next season–probably on the Parma and Greers Ferry quads.  Who knows, maybe I’ll start blogging again!  Until then, see you on the outcrop!

Statemap Field Blog, Dec 10-12, 2013

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Hello all!

Well, we did have a winter weather event last Friday that was still on the ground in the field area the following Tuesday.  Roads were fairly clear to Clinton, but between Clinton and Shirley it was still mostly patches of snow and ice.  North of Shirley, the roads were pretty much all covered with snow and ice.  Even “Goldy” (our Jeep) got stuck briefly when Danny decided to stop and check his map almost at the top of a hill.

Tuesday we managed to get to a drainage south of the Middle Fork that had fairly low relief, so were able to climb down the side and follow it on down.  There were some very large footprints in the snow along the valley floor that may have been a feral pig, but don’t know for sure.  It’s amazing how the critters always choose the easiest route.  Their trails are usually pretty good for people too, though they don’t often care about avoiding briar patches.  The snow was pretty crunchy, so fairly good traction.  Having snow on the ground rather evens out the terrain in an odd way, though you have to be poised to catch yourself with every step.  Had some massive sandstone units, but they were blocky and non-calcareous, so we’re in something different than on the north side of the river.

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The next day we managed to make our way north of Shirley to a couple drainages at the head of Indian Creek that we had skipped when we did the lower end.  As it happened it was a pretty good choice because the relief was rather low and the bottom was fairly wide.  Also, it was south-facing which helped to melt the crusty snow and maybe keep us a little warmer.  We saw mostly massive calcareous sandstone units of the Witts Springs though may have gotten into the Bloyd in the higher elevations.  At the end of the day we entered an area that still showed signs of damage from the Jan. 2009 ice storm that coated most of northwest Arkansas with a thick layer of ice and downed many trees–many by the roots.  Witnessed a beautiful sunset on the way out though.  We were near 1400 feet which is about the highest elevation on the quad.  The trees there were still coated in ice from last Friday’s storm.

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Thursday we tried another drainage near the one we hiked on Tuesday.  This one was north-facing and proved to be too steep and narrow a descent to do with so much snow on the ground.  The snow had developed a thick icy crust from thawing and refreezing, and we had to break through it to get traction.  I managed to get up and around on the side of a particularly narrow spot in the creek bed, and was waiting for Danny to follow when I saw him retreating back upstream.  I later found out that he couldn’t find purchase on the icy banks, so decided to return the way we had come.  Since I had gotten farther downstream by breaking through the crusty snow and climbing down the steep side, I had no choice but to climb back up that way.  I found that going on up was less hazardous than going back down toward the creek, so I continued to climb up the side and by the time I drew even with Danny was probably 100 feet higher.  I could barely see him down there, but managed to get a photo of him climbing up the drainage.  We’ll have to try that one again when the snow is gone!

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After that, we got a few points on Weaver Creek were it leaves the western edge of the map, and headed back to Little Rock.  Hope this clears up by next week!  Until then, see you on the ice-covered outcrop!

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Statemap Field Blog—Dec. 2-4, 2013

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Hello all!

This week we finished up a few odds and ends on the Shirley quad.  We needed to get to a few suspected outcrops along the north side of the Middle Fork just east of Shirley.  As we were looking for a way to access them, we stumbled upon the Sid Burgess Historic M&NA Trail which starts in downtown Shirley and ends up about a mile distant at the historic Cottrell-Wilson Cemetery.  As luck would have it, this trail happened to access the very areas we needed to see.  If you’re ever in Shirley, it’s definitely worth checking out!

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We saw mostly thin-bedded sandstone and shale units of the same variety as on the south side of the Middle Fork and Weaver Creek upstream.  There are a few low dips toward the lineation, but nothing indicating a major structure.  I’m thinking this may all be the unit above the Witts Springs (Bloyd Formation) brought down to the southeast by a monocline.  The trouble is, we don’t really know what the Bloyd/Witts Springs contact looks like in this area yet.  That’s something we still need to work out.

Tuesday was wet again, but we set out to finish up the southernmost branch of Lost Creek anyway.  Seems to be mostly Witts Springs in there with some Cane Hill at the bottom of the valley.  We saw some great examples of soft-sediment deformation in some of the silty units on the way down.  Soft sediment deformation occurs during sedimentation when the rapid loading of usually more dense, overlying sediments causes the less dense, buried deposits beneath them to become partially liquefied, which forms various types of disruptions in the original bedding.  This can take the form of simple reorientation of the bedding as we have here, to more complex convolute bedding and flame structures.  I took a photo later in the week of a good flame structure in the Bloyd Formation.  Notice where the shale has been squeezed up between the thick, contorted beds of sandstone.

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Several massive calcareous sandstone units in the Witts Springs again illustrated the dramatic difference between outcrops weathered with and without the influence of groundwater.  Notice how rotten the outcrop of massive sandstone in the photo below left appears.  Also note the green color.  There is a layer of moss and lichen growing over almost the entire rock surface, made possible by its relative saturation by groundwater.  These organisms help accelerate the weathering of the rock, and there are places where you can actually see clumps of moss peeling off the surface along with a layer of sand.  This type of chemical weathering is known as chelation and results in the effective removal of the residual iron cement still holding the rock together after the calcite cement has been dissolved by groundwater.  The photo below right shows how “dry weathering” of a boulder of the same material can result in well-defined liesegang bands.  Highly concentrated iron has cemented these bands within the massive sandstone, and without the influence of groundwater, they are preferentially resistant to weathering, leaving them in bold relief.

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On Friday, we looked at some of the last steep areas we haven’t vistited north of the Middle Fork east of Shirley.  Definitely still have Witts Springs right down to the river there, but there is also a thin- to very thick-bedded unit above it that is probably in the Bloyd.  We saw a fairly recent landslide above the river composed of material from that upper unit.  There was also a good cut and fill channel bed exposed in that unit as well.

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It was warm enough for the critters to be out again this week.  Just when I thought it was safe to put my foot down anywhere I pleased, I nearly stepped on a moccasin.  That’s him slinking back in his hole.  We also saw a western slimy salamander (plethodon albagula?) under some storm debris, which was subsequently replaced.

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Hopefully the warm weather holds out, but the forecast says the bottom may drop out on Friday.  We’ll see!

Until next week, see you on the outcrop!

 

Statemap Field Blog Nov. 25-27, 2013

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Hello all!

A cold rain on Monday was freezing on the trees, so we explored some of the many undeveloped road networks in Fairfield Bay, especially along Dave Creek and down to the lake on the east side of the map.

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Not quite sure what we’re in here, but there is a calcareous sandstone massive not too far above lake level which could indicate that we’re still in the Witts Springs even though this is south of the lineation along the Middle Fork.  We’re getting a lot of strong southerly dips along the north edge of the lake which indicate there is a fault along that lineation, unfortunately the lake covers it.  Too bad this detailed geologic mapping was not done prior to 1963!

Tuesday we finished up the upper end of Big Branch.  The ice was still on the branches when we started, but soon began to melt which made it seem like it was raining again until about noon.

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At first, we thought we were finding additional Witts Springs/Cane Hill contacts, which was surprising since we were so far above where we had them downstream last week.  But we definitely had a thin-bedded sandstone that was shaly near the top beneath a classic basal Witts Springs sandstone.

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Or did we?  As it turned out, the thin-bedded sandstone was only about 40-60 feet thick and was above at least two other massive sandstone units.  Another Cane Hill look-alike!  That’s why you always have to look at the entire section, or you may miss something!

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What we took for the basal sandstone massive may actually have been the uppermost sandstone massive in the Witts Springs.  As we hiked on downstream, we did eventually find the actual Witts Springs/Cane Hill contact that lined up much better with the points we already had.

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Wednesday, it was so cold the moisture being wicked up certain grasses was making “frost flowers”.

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We walked up the lower end of Little Creek along the western edge of the map.  We had already seen the upper portion when we mapped Old Lexington, and it seems to be all Witts Springs in there.  We saw some good examples of “zebra rock” and “Prairie Grove weathering” in some of the massive sandstone units (see previous blog).

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Some of the calcareous sandstone is also fossiliferous, and I was lucky enough to find a good rugose coral weathering out in one fossiliferous zone.

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Well, looks like winter is here to stay!  At least I don’t have to watch for snakes anymore!  Until next week, see you on the outcrop!

STATEMAP Field Blog, Nov. 18-20, 2013

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Hello all!

Well, another great week to look at rocks!  We explored about a five mile stretch of Big Branch, definitely the biggest drainage left unexplored on the Shirley quad at this point.  Quite a bit of Cane Hill in the bottom, then several hundred feet of Witts Springs above.  The rocks near its confluence with Weaver Creek are dipping strongly southeast, and the Cane Hill actually dives into the subsurface there.

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Still haven’t decided if the big structure in Weaver Creek valley is a fault or just a really big monocline, but we’re leaning toward monocline right now because we still haven’t seen a real break in the rocks.  Of course, faults typically become covered because the fractured rock is preferentially eroded.  It just seems less and less likely that there is a fault there with each drainage we do that should cut across it.

Monday we walked in the lower end and got several strong SE dips in the Cane Hill.  Then we discovered an outstanding outcrop of basal Witts Springs sandstone, that we thought was a very large boulder at first because of the advanced state of the sort of “dry weathering” that usually affects the massive Witts Springs boulders after they become separated from groundwater, usually along joints, as they slide downslope.  This includes well-developed honeycomb taphoni, well-defined liesegang banding, and case-hardening of the surface.  In the bluff face, solutionally-enlarged joints can form fracture caverns, and spalling near the base can form bluff shelters.  All of this can happen under the influence of groundwater of course, but that kind of saturation usually leads to a punky or rotten texture in the rock, and forms very steep, covered topography.  The really spectacular outcrops occur when lack of groundwater slows down the weathering to a grain-by-grain process.  This is what I call “dry weathering”.  After walking up both sides and along the top, we concluded that it was indeed part of a continuous outcrop that was probably protected from groundwater penetration by its joint system.  I dubbed it “Castle Rock” because of its many turrets and towers.

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Speaking of weathering, on Tuesday we saw a classic example of preferential weathering along beds of sandy limestone interbedded with limey sandstone.  When these beds are freshly exposed, they form light and dark bands within a smooth face of massive sandstone.  We refer to this informally as “zebra rock”.  The light bands are more limey, the dark bands less.  As weathering progresses, chemical weathering breaks down the more limey areas at an accelerated rate simply because there is more reactive material in that rock than in the sandier beds around it.  When weathered, these areas form long horizontal hollows or pits in the massive sandstone.

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We informally refer to this weathering pattern as “Prairie Grove weathering” after a Member of the Hale Formation in northwest Arkansas that most typically exemplifies this trait.  The base of the Witts Springs Formation is an equivalent unit to the Prairie Grove Member, and often massive sandstones within the Witts Springs will display this type of weathering as well.  Though not definitive, this characteristic can be used to help us determine if a given outcrop is within the Witts Springs.

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As we made are way up the Big Branch, we ran into our old nemesis: the February 5, 2008 tornado track.  This is the one that was on the ground for 122 miles in Arkansas and killed 14 people.  We’ve crossed it’s track on several maps, and it never ceases to amaze how destructive it was.

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I’ll be back next week.  Until then, see you on the outcrop!

 

 

 

 

GeoPic of the Week: Honeycomb Weathering In Sandstone

Honeycomb weathering in sandstone

Honeycomb weathering in sandstone

This type of weathering produces pits of varying size on a rock surface.  The pits in the picture above are small approximately less than 1 inch up to 2 inches in diameter.  This type of weathering is also known as tafoni, a Sicilian word for window.  The dominant process that forms these features is probably chemical weathering.    Sandstones are made up of sand size grains of quartz and other minerals.  The grains are held together with a cement or glue such as quartz, calcite, or iron.  In most instances, there are patches where the cement is no longer present allowing the grains to fall apart.  Honeycomb weathering is abundant in the sandstones in the northern part of the state.  This picture was taken of the Wedington Sandstone Member of the Fayetteville Shale in northwestern Arkansas.