Geo-pic of the week: A lively sea in North Arkansas

 

Starfish pit 2Starfish pit 1

Starfish pit 4Starfish pit 6

Starfish pit 5Starfish pit 3     

The above pictures are of sandstone beds from a quarry in North Arkansas developed in a rock formation called the Batesville Sandstone.  Though it formed in a marine setting, the Batesville is typically composed of fairly homogeneous, flat-bedded rock with little evidence of inhabitation.  This spot is an exception.  The pictures clearly indicate the depositional environment was teaming with sea life at the time the sediment was emplaced.  

The abundant trace fossils, which preserve the activity of organisms rather than their physical form, show a variety of behaviors common to marine invertebrate animals that lived in Arkansas more than 330 million years ago.  Remnants of grazing traces of various snail and worm-like critters (A), resting traces (starfish; B), Dwelling burrows (sea-anemone or bivalve?; C), and locomotion trails (D) are indicators of the conditions present in North Arkansas near the end of Mississippian time.   

Geo-pic of the week: Aerial Photography

Aerial Photo-Central Arkansas

Sometimes the best way to see what’s on the ground is to get as far away from it as possible.  Geologists use a variety of tools to do just that.  One of those tools is aerial photography.

The picture above shows the Arkansas River where it leaves the mountainous western uplands and enters the bottomlands of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, east of Little Rock (upper left).  Driving east across that boundary, it’s easy to get the impression that the Mississippi Alluvial Plain is a broad flat expanse of land with little to no distinguishing features.  That’s far from the case as this photo reveals.  

From high-altitude imagery, subtle relic features created by the Arkansas River can be easily recognized.  Note the swirling landforms that characterize the lowlands on the right side of the picture.  Over time the Arkansas River has meandered through the valley carving new channel courses and abandoning old reaches of channel.  The continually changing river has left a mosaic of oxbow lakes (water-filled abandoned channels) and arc-shaped river deposits known as point bars. 

Geo-pic of the week: Cleavage

clip_image002Calcite at atomic resolution

The mineral in the above pictures is calcite, a common mineral in earth’s crust that is the main component of the sedimentary rock limestone.  The stack of samples (top) exhibit a physical characteristic known as cleavage.  The cleavage of calcite causes it to break into a rhombus-shape (see picture).

Cleavage is the tendency of a crystalline substance, such as a mineral, to break along parallel planes that reflect the internal arrangement of the atoms in the crystal.  All crystals, by definition, have a uniform atomic arrangement.  To illustrate this property, I’ve included a second picture (bottom), borrowed from Dr. Cathy Sutton, that shows an extremely magnified calcite crystal.  The repeating rhombus-shapes in the picture are individual calcite molecules.  Basically, cleavage is the outward expression of the internal structure of a mineral.

The samples on the left were collected from Midwest Lime Quarry, Batesville, Arkansas.

Geo-pic of the week: Trilobite Romance

trilobite meeting in pennsylvanian

The photo above shows trace fossils that record the travels of two trilobites.  Trilobites are an extinct group of marine invertebrate animals, resembling horse-shoe crabs, that flourished for 100s of millions of years in the Paleozoic Era (540-250 mya).   The tracks the animal left are known as the trace fossil, Cruziana.  It appears that one traveled from the right side of the photo, the other from the left, until they met in the middle where they rested for a while.  At the center of the photo are resting traces known as Rusophycus.  Perhaps they became friends or maybe they were even more than friends?  It is Valentine’s Day.  Their traces are preserved in the Atoka Formation of west-central Arkansas.  

2019 STATEMAP Field Calendar now available for download

Download a commemorative 25th anniversary STATEMAP Field Calendar here:

https://www.geology.arkansas.gov/publication/other-publications/statemap-field-calendar-2019.html

We are celebrating the 25th year of detailed geologic mapping in Arkansas made possible by the passage of the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992. It established STATEMAP which distributes funds to the states, typically geological surveys, in the form of cooperative grants which are used to partially fund various geologic mapping projects. The first grant received by the Arkansas Geological Survey, then known as the Arkansas Geological Commission, was for a proposal in fiscal year 1994.  Since that time, seventy-eight 1:24,000-scale geologic maps have been completed, with two more on the way this year.  Two maps at the 1:100,000-scale have also been published.  This marks an unprecedented commitment to gathering data about the surface of the earth in our state. Following is a factsheet summarizing the STATEMAP projects in Arkansas since 1994.

Statemap Factsheet-front-2019

Here is the law establishing STATEMAP:

National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992

PUBLIC LAW 102-285

102d Congress

signed May 18, 1992

 

An Act

To enhance geologic mapping of the United States, and for other purposes.

 

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

 

43 USC section 31a. Findings and purpose

(a) Findings

 The Congress finds and declares that–

(1) during the past 2 decades, the production of geologic maps has been drastically curtailed;

(2) geologic maps are the primary data base for virtually all applied and basic earth-science applications, including–

(A) exploration for and development of mineral, energy, and water resources:

(B) screening and characterizing sites for toxic and nuclear waste disposal;

(C) land use evaluation and planning for environmental protection;

(D) earthquake hazards reduction;

(E) predicting volcanic hazards;

(F) design and construction of infrastructure requirements such as utility lifelines, transportation corridors, and surface-water impoundments;

(G) reducing losses from landslides and other ground failures;

(H) mitigating effects of coastal and stream erosion;

(I) siting of critical facilities; and

(J) basic earth-science research;

(3) Federal agencies, State and local governments, private industry, and the general public depend on the information provided by geologic maps to determine the extent of potential environmental damage before embarking on projects that could lead to preventable, costly environmental problems or litigation;

(4) the combined capabilities of State, Federal, and academic groups to provide geologic mapping are not sufficient to meet the present and future needs of the United States for national security, environmental protection, and energy self-sufficiency of the Nation;

(5) States are willing to contribute 50 percent of the funding necessary to complete the mapping of the geology within the State;

(6) the lack of proper geologic maps has led to the poor design of such structures as dams and waste-disposal facilities;

(7) geologic maps have proven indispensable in the search for needed fossil-fuel and mineral resources; and

(8) a comprehensive nationwide program of geologic mapping is required in order to systematically build the Nation’s geologic-map data base at a pace that responds to increasing demand.

 

(b) Purpose

The purpose of sections 31a to 31h of this title is to expedite the production of a geologic-map data base for the Nation, to be located within the United States Geological Survey, which can be applied to land-use management, assessment, and utilization, conservation of natural resources, groundwater management, and environmental protection.

 

section 31c. Geologic mapping program

 

(c) Program objectives

The objectives of the geologic mapping program shall include–

(1) determining the Nation’s geologic framework through systematic development of geologic maps at scales appropriate to the geologic setting and the perceived applications, such maps to be contributed to the national geologic map data base;

(2) development of a complementary national geophysical-map data base, geochemical-map data base, and a geochronologic and paleontologic data base that provide value-added descriptive and interpretive information to the geologic-map data base;

(3) application of cost-effective mapping techniques that assemble, produce, translate and disseminate geologic-map information and that render such information of greater application and benefit to the public; and

(4) development of public awareness for the role and application of geologic-map information to the resolution of national issues of land use management.

(d) Program components

(3) A State geologic mapping component, whose objective shall be determining the geologic framework of areas that the State geological surveys determine to be vital to the economic, social, or scientific welfare of individual States. Mapping priorities shall be determined by multirepresentational State panels and shall be integrated with national priorities. Federal funding for the State component shall be matched on a one-to-one basis with non-Federal funds.

Miss January

https://www.geology.arkansas.gov/publication/other-publications/statemap-field-calendar-2019.html

The St. Peter Sandstone

Recent mapping adventures have reminded me just how much I enjoy studying the St. Peter Sandstone.  This sandstone was named by Arkansas’ first State Geologist, David Dale Owen, for exposures on the St. Peter River, now called the Minnesota River, in southern Minnesota.  The sandstone is Middle Ordovician in age (around 460 million years old) and during that time it extended all the way from Minnesota into Texas.

It is easy to recognize the St. Peter Sandstone whether you are in Minnesota or Arkansas – clean, sugary, white sandstone.  In fact, here is a photo taken from the place where it was first described, known as the type section, under a bridge near Fort Snelling, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

type section st. peter

St. Peter Sandstone in its type area. 

In Minnesota the sandstone easily falls apart.  In Arkansas, the surface of the outcrop is case- hardened meaning there is a hard rind on the rock that forms due to iron-rich water percolating through it and depositing iron on the surface as the water evaporates.  Where this rind is broken, the sand grains fall apart more easily, as at the type area.

st. peter at spring parking (2)

The St. Peter Sandstone cropping out in the parking area for the spring at Blanchard Springs Recreation Area.

The contact of the St. Peter Sandstone with the underlying Everton Formation is particularly interesting.  It is unconformable which means there was a period of non-deposition and erosion before the St. Peter was deposited.  It is also undulatory with as much as 20 feet of relief in Arkansas.  The relief is the difference between the top and bottom of an undulation.  Flint, 1956, reports that these undulations can reach up to 200 feet in Wisconsin.  Pretty amazing!

st pete everton unconformity 3

In the photo above, the relief at the contact is probably around 5-6 feet.  Note the rock hammer for scale.  The rock above the hammer is the St. Peter Sandstone while the rock the hammer is resting on is the Everton Formation.  Also notice the curvature of the contact.  The reason for the unconformable undulating contact is that the sand in the St. Peter was deposited upon the karsted Everton surface.  Karst forms when rock such as limestone is exposed to slightly acidic rainwater or groundwater and develops sinkholes, caves, and enlarged fractures. Since this karst surface has been buried by the St. Peter Sandstone, it is considered paleokarst.

The geologic story goes something like this.  After the sea that deposited the Everton Formation retreated, the limestone at the top of the formation was exposed.  Weathering and erosion lasted for up to tens of millions of years, during which time an extensive karst surface developed (Palmer and Palmer, 2011).   Sand was brought into the area from the source area to the north (Great Lakes region) by rivers and wind. Later, as the sea advanced again, it spread the sand over the area filling in the depressions and forming a thick deposit covering a large portion of the mid-continent.

inked739 contact 2_li

In this photo the relief is approximately 18 feet.  Note the 6-foot-tall geologist for scale.  The red line indicates the contact between the St. Peter above and the Everton below.

The St. Peter Sandstone is relatively resistant to erosion compared to the surrounding rocks; therefore, it is usually a bluff-former.  The tallest bluff I have seen crops out at Blanchard Springs Recreation Area near the group camp and the amphitheater.

Enjoy these photos of the St. Peter Sandstone and hope to see you in the field!

Angela Chandler

st. peter ss amphitheater

Tall (approximately 70 feet tall) St. Peter bluff behind the amphitheater at Blanchard Springs Recreation Area.

590 st. peter bluff-2

    St. Peter Sandstone bluff near Blanchard Springs Recreation Area. 

dipping st. pete swimming area

The St. Peter Sandstone dipping to creek level at the swimming area in Blanchard Springs Campground.     

References and other sources on the St. Peter Sandstone:

Flint, A.E., 1956, Stratigraphic relations of the Shakopee Dolomite and the St. Peter Sandstone   in southwestern Wisconsin: Journal of Geology, vol. 64, no. 4, pp. 396-421.

Giles, A.W., 1930, St. Peter and older Ordovician sandstones of northern Arkansas:  Arkansas Geological Survey Bulletin 4, 187 p.

Palmer, A.N. and Palmer, M.V., 2011, Paleokarst of the USA:  A brief review; in U.S. Geological   Survey Karst Interest Group Proceedings, Fayetteville, Arkansas:  U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5031, pp. 7-16.

Geo-pic of the week: Fracture-Fill at Shine-Eye

DSCN5369

The photo above shows a vertical dark rock in the center of flat-lying white rock. The dark rock is a sandstone deposit, probably Mississippian-aged, and the white rock is Silurian-aged limestone. If one were to follow the sandstone dike upward, it would lead to a sandstone bed sitting on top of the limestone. Since the limestone was deposited first, we can infer that it was exposed to weathering. The limestone was solutioned and deep fractures or cracks formed. Afterwards, sand was deposited in the area, filled the fractures in the limestone, and eventually lithified into sandstone. There are several of these sandstone-filled fractures present along the Buffalo National River in Silurian-aged limestone. The one pictured above is located at Shine-Eye.