Category Archives: Notes From The Field

Buttress on Little Buffalo River near Parthenon

Notes From the Field: Boone Buttresses

Buttress on Little Buffalo River near Parthenon

Buttress on Little Buffalo River near Parthenon, Newton County

The photo above shows an unusual rock column located near Parthenon in Newton County.  Judging from the man standing at the base, it is probably over 100 feet tall.  Recently, I was asked what to call these impressive features.  The term we’ve used at the Survey is buttress, which is defined by the Glossary of Geology as a protruding rock mass on, or a projecting part of, a mountain or hill resembling the buttress of a building; a spur running down from a steep slope.  Example: a prominent salient produced in the wall of a gorge by differential weathering.  We’ve used the term buttress, instead of other terms like pinnacle or rock pillar, because these terms refer to a free-standing column of rock, whereas a buttress is, at least nominally, attached to the bluff line.  The term also differentiates these particular features from others that are similar in shape, such as pedestals or hoodoos, which typically form in clastic rocks like sandstone and siltstone.  Their development is controlled by joints, which are planar fractures with no displacement, and by the presence of a resistant caprock, which acts to protect the underlying, less-resistant rock from weathering as quickly.  This process leads to a characteristic shape that is wide at the top and narrower below.

Sandstone pedestal at Pedestal Rocks, Pope County

Sandstone pedestal at Pedestal Rocks, Pope County

A buttress, on the other hand, is typically either uniform in diameter or may taper slightly towards the top, probably because they develop in fairly homogeneous rock.

Buttresses are known to be present in two locations in Arkansas: along the Little Buffalo River near Parthenon in Newton County and along Bear Creek near Silver Hill in Searcy County.

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Buttresses on Bear Creek, Searcy County

They are all developed in the Mississippian Boone Formation which averages about 320 feet in thickness, and is composed of interbedded limestone and chert.  Limestone is dissolved by slightly acidic surface and groundwater, and over time this process leads to many unusual surface and subsurface features known as karst.  Buttresses are one such feature.

The exact mechanism for their development is poorly understood, but some of the factors that contribute to their formation are known.  First, dissolution of limestone can produce similar shapes on a small scale, as seen in this photo of coarsely crystalline Fernvale Limestone in a creek bed.

Dissolutioned limestone in creek bed, Stone County

Dissolutioned limestone in creek bed, Stone County

This process may be all that is needed to produce the buttresses at a larger scale.  Second, all rock units have planes of weakness due to the regional history of tectonic stress.  This stress is usually expressed as a joint system, and is one of the most commonly observed structural features in an outcrop.  Observations at these two sites have shown that jointing is poorly exposed, but as you can see from the aerial photograph on Bear Creek, weathering of the buttresses roughly aligns with the most prominent joint trends in the area (N/S and NE/SW) as indicated by the joint diagram from the Geologic Map of the Marshall Quadrangle.

Aerial view of buttresses on Bear Creek showing prominent regional joint orientationsMarshall Rose

Aerial photo of buttresses on Bear Creek showing prominent regional joint orientations

So even though the joints are poorly developed, one can interpret that pathways for water preferred these orientations, enlarged them over time, and left the buttresses as erosional remnants. 

However they occur, they are certainly beautiful rock formations and worthy of further study.

Buttresses on Bear Creek, Searcy County

Buttresses on Bear Creek, Searcy County

Many thanks to Angela Chandler for the featured image!

Richard Hutto

Archimedes in Pitkin Limestone

Notes from the Field: Pitkin Limestone

 

The Pitkin Limestone

One of the most fossiliferous formations in the state is the Pitkin Limestone. It was referred to as the Archimedes Limestone in the late 1890s because it contains an abundance of the screw-shaped bryozoan fossil Archimedes. It was formally named the Pitkin Limestone in 1904 for exposures near Pitkin Post Office in Washington County, Arkansas. If you can’t find the town of Pitkin on a map, don’t worry–it’s now known as Woolsey.

The Pitkin began as carbonate sediments deposited in the Mississippian Period around 320 million years ago.  At that time, northern Arkansas was covered by a shallow sea that was fairly close to the equator.  Warm, shallow seawater is a prime environment for the build-up of carbonates.  Marine organisms extracted calcium carbonate out of the seawater to form shells or other hard parts.  This material accumulated and eventually turned into limestone.  Some of those secreted structures are preserved as fossils in the rock and are clues to the environmental conditions that existed at the time.

The Mississippian in Arkansas

The area of what is now Arkansas during the Mississippian

The Pitkin Limestone is a bluff-former that crops out in the southern portion of the Ozark Plateaus from just south of Fayetteville eastward to Batesville, typically along the Boston Mountains Plateau Escarpment.  It is mostly limestone, however, there is some nodular black chert present locally.  Black shale intervals are common in the eastern portion.  Because limestone is a soluble rock, karst features such as caves, sinkholes, springs, and disappearing streams are common in this Formation.  About 9% of the known caves in Arkansas are in the Pitkin.  Its thickness varies from an average of about 50 feet on the west side of the state to about 200 feet in the eastern part with a maximum of about 400 feet in the central portion.  It typically rests on the Fayetteville Shale and is overlain by the Cane Hill Member of the Hale Formation in western Arkansas and by the Imo interval from the area of western Searcy County eastward.

Geologic Map of Arkansas-detail

The Pitkin outcrop belt is within the light-brown area in this Ozark Plateaus detail of the Geologic Map of Arkansas

To download the entire Geologic Map of Arkansas, click here: http://www.geology.ar.gov/ark_state_maps/geologic.htm

Cane Hill/Pitkin Contact near West Fork

The Cane Hill overlying the Pitkin near West Fork, Washington County

Pitkin/Fayetteville Contact at Hwy 65 Roadcut

The Fayetteville underlying the Pitkin near Marshall, Searcy County

Pitkin top in Little Red Creek

Top of Pitkin in Little Red Creek near Canaan, Searcy County

Now, let’s look at fossils commonly found in the Pitkin.

Archimedes in Pitkin-Batesville Archimedes in Pitkin-Fayetteville

The photos above contain fossils of Archimedes.  The fossil is named for the ancient Greek engineer who invented a device that incorporated a large screw to lift water for irrigation.  The left photo was taken south of Batesville and the right photo was taken south of Fayetteville.  It’s remarkable that these fossils are so persistent along this great extent.  Although this fossil is characteristic of the Pitkin, it can also be present in adjacent formations.  The illustration below is a sketch of a fenestrate Bryzoan of which Archimedes is a type.

Fenestrate Bryzoan

Archimedes as it may have appeared in life

Crinoid stems and Columnals-Batesville Crinoid Stems-Batesville

Pieces of fossilized Crinoids are also abundant in the Pitkin.  Most commonly, small button-shaped pieces of the stem and arms, known as columnals, are preserved in the limestone.  That is a columnal in the center of the left photo.  The larger crinoid fossils above were preserved in shale and were most probably washed onto a mud flat during a storm event.  These photos were taken south of Batesville, but crinoid detritus is abundant throughout the Pitkin and most other limestone in Arkansas.

Crinoid

Crinoid as it may have appeared in life

A great location to see the Pitkin is along Richland Creek at its confluence with Falling Water Creek.  When the creek level is low, you can hike upstream from the campground and see many fine exposures of Pitkin Limestone in the creekbed.  Locally, colonies of tabulate and rugose coral were preserved in the Pitkin and can be discovered upon close inspection of the outcrop.

Moore Quadrangle-detail

Detail of Geologic Map of the Moore Quadrangle showing Pitkin along Richland Creek (Mp=Pitkin)

To download the entire Geologic Map of the Moore Quadrangle, click here: https://ngmdb.usgs.gov/Prodesc/proddesc_76560.htm

Tabulate Coral in Pitkin Limestone

Tabulate or colonial coral in the Pitkin Limestone along Richland Creek.

Rugose Coral Colony in Pitkin Limestone

Rugose coral in Pitkin

Locally, the Pitkin consists of oolite, a type of sedimentary rock composed of ooliths.  Ooliths are small, spherical structures (<2 mm) that form by accretion of numerous concentric layers of calcite on a central nucleus such as a shell fragment or sand grain.  The environment of deposition would have been areas where strong bottom currents or wave action rolled the fragment around in carbonate-rich sea water.  This would include environments like beaches and tidal flats.

Oncolites and stromatolites are also preserved in the Pitkin.  They have a similar structure to ooliths, but are much larger (up to 10 cm), can be round or irregular-shaped, and are formed by a different mechanism.  Like ooliths, they nucleate on a shell or other fragment, but are built up by encrusting layers of blue-green algae or cyanobacteria.  Stromatolites form in much the same way,  but create columns, mats, or large heads.  Stromatolites and oncolites typically indicate a paleoenvironment of warm, shallow water in a calm sea, lagoon, or bay.

Oolitic Pitkin

Oolitic Pitkin

Oncolitic Pitkin

Oncolitic Pitkin

Stromatolitic Pitkin

Stromatolitic Pitkin

During fieldwork for our geologic mapping, finding Pitkin Limestone is always exciting because there is something new and interesting to discover every time.  We hope this brief introduction to one of Arkansas’ most intriguing formations has convinced you to seek out the Pitkin and have a closer look.

Until next time, we’ll see you on the outcrop!

Richard Hutto, Angela Chandler

Statemap 2015-16 Update

 

Hello all!

Well, another year, another map!  The Brownsville quad is now published (see map below), and a link to it will be posted on our website soon.  This year marks the 22nd anniversary of Statemap, aka the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, in Arkansas.  Statemap is partially funded by a USGS grant, and was established to encourage the states to map their surface geology at the 1:24,000 scale.  To date, our mapping teams have completed thirty-three quadrangles in the West Gulf Coastal Plain and, with the recent publication of the Brownsville quad, forty quads in the Ozark Plateaus.

Geologic map Brownsville, AR

The geology of the area around Greers Ferry Lake has never been mapped in great detail until now.  Previous work had been to produce the 1:500,000-scale Geologic Map of Arkansas.  Because we mapped the Brownsville quad at the 1:24,000 scale, we were able to make some observations new to science.  A fault was discovered that had never been mapped previously.  We named it the Shiloh Fault for the old town, now inundated by the lake, that lies along its trace.  Meanders of the Little Red River channel approached this fault but didn’t cross it, probably due to encountering more resistant rock on the north side of the fault.  The Witts Springs Formation had not been mapped south of the Choctaw Creek Fault before, but we were able to draw in its upper contact with the Bloyd Formation along the Devil’s Fork and several other drainages.

Overturned cross beds in massive sandstone of the undifferentiated Bloyd Formation

As on other quads around Greers Ferry Lake, we continued to find terrace deposits left behind as the Little Red River carved the valley down to its present elevation.  Some of these are stranded as much as 260 feet above the current channel bottom (now located on the bottom of the lake).

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For many years now, our mapping program has focused on completing the Mountain View 1:100,000-scale quad.  This area encompasses thirty-two 1:24,000-scale quads and stretches from Richland Creek to Sylamore Creek on the north side and from the Illinois Bayou to Greers Ferry Lake on the south side.  Now that this area is finished, our Statemap Advisory Committee has decided we should jump over to northwest Arkansas to complete work on the Fly Gap Mountain quad, just west of the Mountain View quad (see map below).

STATEMAP index for blog

So for next year, the Statemap team is going to start work on the Durham quad in the northwest corner of the Fly Gap Mountain quad near Fayetteville.  We’ll have to spend a few weeks getting our feet on the ground, so to speak, because we won’t have the benefit of already mapped quads adjacent.  Fortunately, we will be very close to the type-sections for most of the formations we’ll be mapping, so hopefully, we can study the classic outcrops and trace them into our new field area without too much difficulty.

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A type-section is an area, or even just an outcrop, where a particular formation was first described.  They are named after a local geographic feature.  Formations first described in northwest Arkansas include: the Fayetteville Shale, the Pitkin Limestone, and the Hale Formation which has the Cane Hill and Prairie Grove as members.  Members are smaller, discernable units within a formation.  The type-section for the Bloyd Formation, including the Brentwood, Woolsey, Dye, and Kessler Members, and the Trace Creek, which is the basal member of the Atoka Formation (named for its type locality in Oklahoma), is on Bloyd Mountain near West Fork.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my field partners that accompanied me this past year.

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I started the year with Ty Johnson, who has since moved into a permanent staff position at the Survey, so congratulations to him!  He was with me for just a year, but we covered a lot of ground together.  He’s now mapping the geology of the Lake Ft. Smith area with an emphasis on landslide mitigation.

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The writer and also principle investigator of the Statemap grant, Angela Chandler, went out a few weeks in the late fall before we could fill the vacancy Ty left behind.  No matter how much I learn, she always manages to teach me something new.

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We hired Garry Hatzell, a recent U of A grad, who started fieldwork in January.  He brings an enthusiastic knowledge of paleontology to the mix, and I look forward to his continued insight into the biostratigraphy of our field areas.

Without the help of these fine folks, we couldn’t have gathered the data or produced the map.  Also, I would have been stuck in the office—a torture for the unrepentant field geologist.

Wish us luck on the Durham quad!  And if you’re in northwest Arkansas during the next twelve months and happen to drive by a Jeep Cherokee with the AGS seal on it, be sure to stop and introduce yourself.

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Until then, I’ll see you on the outcrop!

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Richard Hutto

Notes from the Field

 

On a recent fieldtrip I realized how many great geologic features exist in the Everton Formation of northern Arkansas. Here’s a little background on the Everton Formation. The Everton Formation is named for exposures near the town of Everton in Boone County, Arkansas. All geologic formations are named for nearby geographic locations. This formation was deposited during the Middle Ordovician Period which means it formed around 470 million years ago. It crops out across northern Arkansas from Beaver Lake in Benton County to Sharp County. Depending on where you are in that portion of the state you might see sandstone, limestone, dolostone, or all three rock types.

Now let’s look at some neat features in the Everton Formation. We’ll start with stromatolites. Stromatolites are laminated structures built by blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria, one of the simplest and earliest known life forms. Notice the mounded laminations in the photo below. These are stromatolites. The rock is a fine-grained limestone. Also notice the bumpy, weathered surface mid-photo. This is where individual stromatolites are weathering out of the rock.

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The next photo shows a better look at the top of this weathered surface. Finding these fossilized accretionary structures in outcrop helps geologists determine the environment in which this rock formed – in this case, a tidal flat.

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The next photo shows that modern stromatalites are still forming in similar environments today.

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Next, let’s look at travertine. Travertine is a chemically-precipitated, continental limestone composed of calcite or aragonite that forms around seepages, springs, and along rivers and streams (Pentecost, 2010). Precipitation results primarily through the transfer of carbon dioxide to or from a groundwater source, which leads to supersaturation and crystal growth on surfaces. Travertine cascades and dams are present on many of the small streams that are sourced by springs issuing from the limestone and dolostone of the Everton Formation.

The first photo shows a travertine cascade over a dolostone ledge.

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The second photo shows a geologist standing beside a tall travertine dam across a small creek.

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Finally, have a look at these fossilized mud cracks. These formed in a similar way to modern mud cracks. These rocks were originally mud that dried out and formed polygonal cracks. These were later filled with additional mud and over time all of it lithified into dolostone. Mud cracks preserved in this manner are another clue that helps geologists determine the environment in which the sediment was deposited. Again, this would indicate a tidal flat.

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Till next time. Get out in the field!!

Angela Chandler

Statemap 2014-15 Update

2014-08-04 006

Hello all,

Just wanted to let you know that the Statemap 2014-15 field mapping project has resulted in the publication of three new geologic maps.  These are the Parma, Prim, and Greers Ferry quadrangles.  Reduced images are posted below.  These should be available as .pdfs on our website in the near future.  I’ll keep you posted!Parma

Parma Quadrangle

2014-09-15 013Prim

Prim Quadrangle

Prim boulder (cannonball concretion) in Sugar Camp Creek

Greers Ferry Layout

Greers Ferry Quadrangle

Old Terrace deposit underlying Greers Ferry, AR

Also, I would like to thank the many people who helped with data collection in the field this year, without whom this project would have been impossible.

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Andy Haner                                                        Danny Rains

 

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Angela Chandler                                                                     Stefanie Domrois

 

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Doug Hanson                                  Ty Johnson

Thanks, everyone!

 

Now it’s off to the Brownsville quad for next year!

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Richard Hutto

Link

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Hello all! Sorry I haven’t blogged in awhile. I’ve been so busy trying to complete the maps for this year by the June 30th deadline.  But, I am proud to announce that the Geologic Maps for Shirley and Fairfield Bay are now published and available on our website!  Click below to view and download the maps.

http://www.geology.ar.gov/maps_pdf/geologic/24k_maps/Shirley.pdf http://www.geology.ar.gov/maps_pdf/geologic/24k_maps/Fairfield%20Bay.pdf

The process to create these maps takes an entire year. I kept you updated each field week from July to April last year, so I thought you might be interested to know how we take the raw data we collected in the field and use it to make a map. First of all, it’s a collaborative effort.  It takes a lot of people who specialize in various disciplines working together to make this product.  Basically, drawing the map starts with the notes we took in the field.  At each point, we tried to identify the rock formation exposed there.  Sometimes this was difficult, especially in the southern portion of the Boston Mountains Plateau where we worked this year. These rocks are all so similar–mostly sandstone and shale.  Nevertheless, if you cover as much ground as we did, you begin to discern similarities in the rock types and bedding structures, and can make formation calls based on those similarities.  Many of the points are taken on what we considered to be contacts between different formations.  These points are used to hand draw contact lines on a blank topographic base map. 2014-07-11 0032014-07-11 007 These lines are continued into areas where the contacts may not be exposed, because we assume lateral continuity of these units.  Many times there are topographic breaks along these contacts which can help us draw the lines in areas of poor exposure or in areas we just didn’t get to.  Structural lines are drawn along the trace of faults or other structures at the surface in areas where we saw the hallmarks of faulting such as deformation bands and non-vertical joints.  Also, the many strike and dip measurements we took were plotted on the map and helped determine orientation of faults and other structures, such as the axis of a monocline.  Once all the lines were neatly drawn on the topo, it was scanned into the computer and georeferenced to the grid of all quads in the state.  Next, each line was painstakingly digitized in ArcView by one of our cartographers, in this case Brian Kehner.  The digitized map was then added to a layout that Danny created in Adobe Illustrator. 2014-07-11 008

The layout includes descriptions of each formation developed from our field notes and are specific to each quad.  A correlation of map units, a generalized stratigraphic column, an inset map of the locations of the field points, a symbol chart, and a rose diagram of the frequency of each joint direction are also added to the layout.  A cross-section based on formation thickness is hand drawn, digitized, and placed along the bottom of the layout. Formations are symbolized by color and an abbreviation.  Sometimes photos are added to balance the layout.  Also plotted are any quarries or pits we found or were in the economic commodities database we keep at the Survey.

2014-07-11 012 After we have a reasonably good map, it’s printed and set out for staff review.  They really let us have it, but this editing process always greatly improves the maps.  After two or three revisions, we finalize it and send it to the USGS by June 30 to fulfill the requirements of the STATEMAP grant.  Whew!  What a relief!Geologic Map of Shirley red1 Geologic Map of Fairfield Bay red This year, as in years past, I have designed a commemorative STATEMAP t-shirt.  I’m taking orders until July 25th if anyone is interested.  They are available for the cost of the shirt you choose plus the printing.  Please email me at richard.hutto@arkansas.gov for details. AGS14_shirt_front (1)AGS14_shirt_back (1) Now we get ready to head back out again to our new field area.  This year we’ll be mapping the Parma, Prim, and Greers Ferry quads.  I’m breaking in a new field partner this time out.  Andrew Haner says he’s looking forward to seeing some of the Arkansas wilderness.   I just hope the snake count is low this year.  From what I’ve see so far, the ticks seem to be at an all time high.  I’ll try to keep you posted, but will be out of the office four days a week this year.  That will leave little time for blogging.  So until my next post, I’ll see you on the outcrop! Richard Hutto

Statemap Field Blog, April 7-9, 2014

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Hello all,

Well, this is the last week of field work for the 2013-14 season.  Of course, there’s always more one would like to have a look at, but we have to stop sometime.  On Monday, we started down by the M&NA railroad bridge at Shirley.  The big fault that makes the SW/NE lineation goes through here somewhere, but it’s difficult to say where exactly.  There are lots of non-vertical joints and deformation bands in the area, which are all good fault signs, but nothing very definitive.  The area north of the bridge is about as thick as it could possibly be with greenbriers –only passable with much effort and many scratches.  We saw very thick-bedded sandstone there which we took for Witts Springs that day, but when we came back on Wednesday, we decided it may be north of the fault, and therefore would be Imo.  We have Imo across the valley, so it’s not out of the question to have it here, but it may be just a relatively thin slice.  There are many cut and fill channel beds there, some of them with very nice soft-sediment deformation at the margins.

On Tuesday we finished up some loose ends in the northwest corner of the Shirley quad.  After we climbed way down in a hollow that had an old tornado track going through it, Danny realized he had lost his camera somewhere.  We hiked back up to the Jeep to see if it was there (it wasn’t), then retraced our steps from earlier that morning.  Still nothing.  He remembered the last time he had used it was in that horrible briar patch the day before, so after we climbed out again, we headed back there.  Sure enough, in the thickest part of the patch, where he had been practically crawling to get through, a briar had reached in his carrying case and pulled it out.  It was still dangling there about a foot off the ground right on the river bank.  At least we got it back!

Deformation bands in massive sandstone near Middle Fork north of Shirley2014-04-07 017

2014-04-09 026 2014-04-09 011On Tuesday afternoon, we went down a drainage on the west side of Middle Fork looking for more signs of a fault we have traced from the Old Lexington quad.  We definitely found a lot of deformation bands in the Witts Springs massives down there and figure there might be as much as 80 feet of throw on the fault.

2014-04-08 0192014-04-08 027Wednesday was our last day in the field this year, and we spent most of our time on the Middle Fork just north of Shirley where we had left off on Monday.  Did look like the fault goes through there because we found very-thick bedded massives on the north side (Imo) and shale interbedded with very thin-bedded sandstone on the south side (Cane Hill).  Our last couple of hours we spent getting points in several road cuts in and around Shirley.  We took a final photo in front of the town sign.

2014-04-08 048 (2)2014-04-09 047This will be Danny’s last year out in the field with me, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for putting up with me and the sometimes horrendous field conditions we’ve faced together the last five years.   Looks like I’ll have to break in a new field partner next year, so should be interesting.  Now comes the time of year when we have to sit in the office and draw the maps, create the layouts, and finish the database, all to be turned in to the USGS by June 30.  It seems like a long time, but we’re always editing down to the last minute.  By the time we make it back out in the field, it will be mid-July, so the ticks and snakes will be out in full force, it will be nice and hot, and all the vegetation will be full grown.  At least that gives us something to look forward to.  Until then, I’ll see you in the office.  After that, I’ll see you on the outcrop!