Tag Archives: limestone

Geo-pic of the week: Solution sinkholes

Sinkhole from angela

A sinkhole is an area of ground that has no external surface drainage.  Water that enters a sinkhole exits by draining into the subsurface.  Many people are leery of sinkholes because of the damage they sometimes cause.  Every now and then, a catastrophic sinkhole-collapse makes headlines, typically by swallowing someone’s house, or even draining an entire lake. 

Not every kind of sinkhole is the dangerous kind though.  The picture above shows a solution sinkhole.  Unlike the feared collapse sinkhole, the solution sinkhole forms by chemical weathering of rock at the ground surface resulting in gradual lowering of the surface to form a depression.  Solution sinkholes form in areas where fractures and joints in the bedrock create pathways through which rainwater can infiltrate the ground. 

In, Arkansas, sinkholes are common in the northern part of the Ozark Plateaus where much of the bedrock is limestone or dolostone.  These types of rocks are notorious for sinkhole development because they are soluble in weakly acidic rain water.

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Notes from the Field: Japton and Witter Quadrangles

 

Geologic mapping of the Japton and Witter 7.5-minute quadrangles was recently completed by the Arkansas Geological Survey’s STATEMAP field team. In Arkansas, the STATEMAP Program is currently focused on detailed 1:24,000-scale mapping in the Ozark Plateaus Region, located in the northern part of the state.

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Figure 1. Japton and Witter Quadrangles on the 1:500,000-scale Geologic Map of Arkansas (Haley et al., 1993)

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Geologic Map of the Japton Quadrangle, Madison County, Arkansas. Download a digital copy at:

http://www.geology.ar.gov/maps_pdf/geologic/24k_maps/Japton_24k_geologic.pdf

Geological Map of the Witter Quadrangle

Geologic Map of the Witter Quadrangle, Madison County, Arkansas.  Download a digital copy at:

http://www.geology.ar.gov/maps_pdf/geologic/24k_maps/Witter_24k_geologic.pdf

STATEMAP is a cooperative, matching-funds grant program administered by the U. S. Geological Survey. The goal of the program is to classify surface rocks into recognizable units based on a common lithology–basically, an inventory of surface materials. Also, we strive to locate and depict any structural elements that may have deformed the rocks. The rock units are classified into formations and members, and structures are described as synclines, anticlines, monoclines, and faults. During the project, a rich dataset was recorded in the field using a portable data collector/global positioning satellite receiver as well as by traditional methods. This made possible a more detailed depiction of geological and structural features and a more comprehensive description of lithology than previous studies had done. Data collection included:

  • 629 field locations recorded and described in detail
  • 3,385 photographs taken at recorded field locations
  • 72 strike and dip measurements, most depicted on the maps
  • 950 joint orientations, depicted in a rose diagram of strike frequency
  • 1 shale pit
  • 8 springs, previously undocumented
  • 108 rock samples collected and described

The new map is useful to landowners interested in developing their land for personal or commercial purposes, to scientists seeking a better understanding of landscape evolution and geologic history, and to planners responsible for resource development and mitigating environmental impacts.

Angela Chandler, Principal Investigator for the project, wrote the grant for fiscal year 2018 and we received funding adequate to produce two maps.  Two geologists, Richard Hutto and Garrett Hatzell, began their field season last July and after putting in 76 days in the field, concluded that portion of their work in February of this year. The area of investigation lies within the Interior Highlands Physiographic Region in north Arkansas, specifically the Boston Mountains Plateau portion of the Ozark Plateaus Province. Previous work by the AGS in this area had been done in preparation for the 1:500,000-scale Geologic Map of Arkansas by Haley et al. circa 1976 (see Fig. 1). That mapping project delineated five stratigraphic units in this area, but through extensive field reconnaissance, we were able to define ten units on these maps at the 1:24,000 scale. Further division is possible, but several units were considered too thin to depict on the 40-foot contours of the topographic map currently available, or too difficult to delineate by lithology alone.

Several tributaries of the White River are located on these quadrangles including Lollars Creek, Drakes Creek, and War Eagle Creek. The White River is a major water resource in Arkansas and southern Missouri, and as such we need to learn as much as we can about this important watershed. Included in the field work was hiking, wading, or swimming the entire 13-mile stretch of War Eagle Creek located within the Witter quadrangle, the 10 miles of Lollars Creek within the Japton, and many smaller drainages. The reason we concentrate our efforts on stream beds is that there, erosion has typically removed soil and loose rock leaving well-exposed outcrops of bedrock for us to study. Also, being able to see the entire stack of the rock sequence as we move up or downstream helps put each formation in context with the others. Discovering where one formation contacts another is one of the most important things we do while mapping. Because formations are laterally extensive, similar contacts can be connected into a contact line separating one formation from another. Figuring out where to draw these lines on the map is a major goal of the project.

From mid-February through the end of June, we analyzed field data, classified rock specimens, drew formation contacts and structures on the map, then handed it off to our cartography staff to digitize. Final layout and production of the maps was accomplished by the geologists, after which they were subjected to an extensive review and editing process by fellow staff.

The following images were taken during this year’s field season. Hopefully, they will provide a small glimpse into some of what we were privileged to experience in the field this year.  They are arranged in stratigraphic order from youngest to oldest:

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Alluvium in War Eagle Creek (left). Landslide on Highway 23 above Dry Fork (right).

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Ball and pillow structures in the Atoka Formation in Drakes Creek.

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Sequence of photos zooming into herringbone cross-beds in the Greenland Member of the Atoka Formation.

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Large blocks of Kessler Limestone sliding into Lollar’s Creek.

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Sequence of photos zooming into oncolitic limestone of the Kessler Member of the Bloyd Formation. The oncolite pictured far right is nucleated on a tabulate coral.

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Lycopod (tree-like plant) fossil weathering out of the Dye Shale.

Top of the Parthenon sandstone in Lollar's CreekDSCN0491

Top of the Parthenon sandstone (Bloyd Formation) in Lollar’s Creek (left). Parthenon resting on the Brentwood Limestone (Bloyd Formation) with travertine precipitating at the drip line (right).

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Siltstone unit in the upper Brentwood Limestone. Cross-bedded (left) and bioturbated (right). 

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Biohermal mounds in the Brentwood Limestone in Jackson Creek.

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Massive bluff of limey sandstone in the Prairie Grove Member of the Hale Formation.

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Sandy limestone in the Prairie Grove. Stream abrasion has revealed cross-bedding (left) and an ammonoid (right).

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Typical thin-, ripple-bedded sandstone of the Cane Hill Member of the Hale Formation (left). A basal conglomerate in the Cane Hill contains fossiliferous and oolitic limestone pebbles and fossil fragments (right).  This unit probably rests on the Mississippian-Pennsylvanian unconformity.

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The Pitkin Limestone in War Eagle Creek.

This year we will be mapping the Weathers quadrangle which is just east of the Witter, and the Delaney quadrangle which is just south of the Durham (which we mapped two years ago). The Kings River flows through Weathers, so this should be a good place to start while river levels are low (and it’s so hot!). I will update you as I can, but until then, I’ll see you in the field!

Richard Hutto

Geo-pic of the week: Siliceous Oolite

Silicified oolite

Ooids are tiny grains that are typically composed of CaCO3 either as calcite or aragonite.  They precipitate from seawater in concentric bands around a nucleus (for instance a fragment of rock or fossil) in turbulent shallow conditions. 

Once ooids form, they can accumulate and be cemented to form a sedimentary type of limestone called oolite.  The above picture is a magnified and tumbled piece of oolitic chert collected fromgravel on Crowley’s Ridge in northeast Arkansas.  The difference between this and typical oolite is that it came into contact with silica(SiO2)-rich ground water after it formed.  The SiO2 then replaced the CaCO3 the rock was initially composed of.   The polished surface provides an ideal view of the internal structure of the spherical ooids.

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

Geo-pic of the week: Castles

Castlerock

According to the American Geosciences institute, a castle, in the geologic sense, is a natural rock formation bearing a fancied resemblance to a castle – sophisticated science, I know!  The limestone boulder pictured above, which is from north central Arkansas, is one such castle.   Rocks like this one owe their appearance to their solubility in weak acid.

Most rain water is actually slightly acidic, due to the CO2  it absorbs from the atmosphere and soil it passes through.  Over time, this acidic water is capable of dissolving limestone bedrock into features such as caves, sinkholes, and, in this case, castles.  The boulder pictured here has been flipped over by the creek’s current; they typically form with the castle side down.

below is an example of a castle that is still forming.  The base of the rock dissolves faster than the upper part, because it is under the water more often.  This differential weathering is what gives the boulder its characteristic castle shape.

 

Castle still forming

Photos by Richard Hutto