Tag Archives: Ordovician

Sandstone Paleokarst

If you have spent any time on Beaver Lake in northwestern Arkansas, then you have probably seen sandstone paleokarst features.  Some stand tall like towers while others appear to be irregular to rounded masses.  It is common to see only the tops of these features when the lake level is low to normal.

 ss paleokarst photo    Top of sandstone mass in Beaver Lake.  Photo taken in October, 2016.

ss paleo 2-01  Sandstone mass along Beaver Lake.  Photo taken in October, 2016.

These features have been in geology literature since 1858 when David Dale Owen made his first geological reconnaissance of the northern counties.  He described a mass of isolated sandstone within adjacent magnesian limestone (now called dolostone) which stands out forming a conspicuous feature in the landscape.  Purdue, 1907, called them cave-sandstone deposits and was the first to consider them paleokarst.  Purdue and Miser, 1916, noted many of these deposits and concluded several were ancient sinkholes that had been filled with sand.  Two theses that pre-date the construction of Beaver Lake (Arrington, 1962, and Staley, 1962) mention numerous sandstone bodies within the Powell.  One very large sandstone mass was seen in the White River (Arrington, 1962).  It is approximately 45 feet tall!  Unfortunately, it is now covered with water.

photo       Sandstone mass in Carroll County.  From Owen, 1858

photo2 Sandstone mass in the White River near Hwy 12 access to Beaver Lake.  From  Arrington, 1962.

So how did these features form?  First, let’s define paleokarst.  Paleokarst consists of karst features that formed in the geologic past and were preserved in the rock record.  Karst features include sinkholes, springs, and caves.  These features form when acidic rain and ground water dissolves carbonate rocks (mainly rocks that contain calcium carbonate – calcite, or calcium-magnesium carbonate – dolomite).

The majority of sandstone masses are surrounded by dolostone, composed of dolomite, in the Powell Formation.  The Powell is Lower Ordovician in age, meaning it formed around 470 million years ago (mya).  It is likely that this formation was exposed to weathering at that time.  Depressions of various size, called sinkholes, developed on the exposed land surface.  Later, sand filled the depressions and eventually became rock called sandstone.  The age of the sandstone masses ranges from Middle Ordovician (approx. 450 mya) to Middle Devonian (approx. 390 mya).  Therefore, there is a gap in the rock sequence, between dolostone in the Powell and the sandstone, called an unconformity, lasting from 20-80 million years.

ss mass 3-01Sandstone mass (center) surrounded by Powell dolostone along Beaver Lake.  Photo taken in September, 2016.

Why is paleokarst important, other than being interesting features to observe?  Paleokarst provides clues to former geologic conditions and changes in climate and sea level (Palmer and Palmer, 2011).  We know that sea level was high in the Lower Ordovician and shallow seas covered all of northern Arkansas.  But, in the Middle Ordovician, sea level lowered and the sandstone paleokarst features provide additional evidence supporting this change.

Many sandstone paleokarst features were located while mapping the War Eagle quadrangle.  Fifty-two sandstone masses were located around Beaver Lake.  This is not a complete list, however, since the main focus of mapping was not a paleokarst inventory.

paleokarst points    Sandstone masses (yellow) located from recent geologic mapping around Beaver Lake.

The War Eagle quadrangle was mapped in preparation for State Park Series 4 – Geology of Hobbs State Park.  Follow the link below to see the geologic map of the War Eagle quadrangle:  http://www.geology.ar.gov/maps_pdf/geologic/24k_maps/War%20Eagle.pdf.

Until next time,

Angela Chandler

 

References:

Arrington, J., 1962, The geology of the Rogers quadrangle:  University of Arkansas M.S. Thesis, 61 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, p. 7-16.

Owen, D.D, 1858, First report of a geological reconnaissance of the northern counties of Arkansas made during the years 1857 and 1858:  Little Rock, 256 p.

Purdue, A.H., 1907, Cave-sandstone deposits of the southern Ozarks:  Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol. 17, pp. 251-256.

Purdue, A.H., and Miser, H.D., 1916, Geologic Atlas of the United States, Eureka Spring-Harrison Folio, Arkansas-Missouri:  U.S. Geological Survey Folio No. 202, 82 p.

Staley, G.G., 1962, The geology of the War Eagle quadrangle, Benton County, Arkansas:   University of Arkansas M.T. Thesis, 56 p.

 

 

 

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Geo-pic of the week: Graptolites

 

Graptolites

This is a picture of shale, collected from the Womble Formation, near Lake Ouachita State Park, Arkansas.  The photo shows examples of the, now extinct, Graptolites: fossilized colonies of tiny marine animals.

There were many types of Graptolites.  Some were attached to the sea floor, like corals, while others floated in the water, like plankton.  The feather-shaped fossils pictured here are actually the nests in which the animals lived.  Each tooth-like tube, on the edges of the nests, housed a tiny animal.  Several of these nests would be linked together into a larger colony.

At one time the oceans were full of Graptolites, but by about 300 million years ago they died out for unknown reasons.  Because they were abundant, widespread, and continually evolving, Graptolites are important fossils for dating ancient marine rocks. 

To download a copy of our self-guided tour of Lake Ouachita geology, click here http://www.geology.ar.gov/pdf/Lake%20Ouachita%20Geologic%20Float.pdf

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

Geopic of the week: Paleokarst on the Buffalo River

Big Plug Paleosinkhole Gimped 20 Apr 01

This is a picture of a paleokarst feature from the Upper Buffalo River in Newton County, Arkansas.  Paleokarst features, like this one, are ancient caves or sinkholes that have been preserved in the rock record.

In this case, a sinkhole formed when bedrock was exposed above sea level and acidic rainwater dissolved a vertical pit in the bedrock.  When sea level rose and covered the area again, more sediment was washed in and the sinkhole was filled with sand.  Eventually the sand became sandstone and a cast of the sinkhole is preserved today (center of photo).

All of this happened about 450 million years ago.  Paleokarst features are one more clue geologists use to decipher earth’s history.  If you didn’t know better, you might float right by and never give it a second thought.

Geopic of the week: Stromatolites

Stromy1

Pictured here are the fossil remains of the first living organisms known to ever flourish on earth: the stromatolites.  They were not giant, ugly mushrooms, as you might expect from this picture.  They were in fact, structures built by microbes, and made of sediment they trapped in their secretions.

Stromatolites are formed by colonies of marine bacteria or algae.  They build the stromatolites up into mounds, like the one above, by secreting a layer at a time.  The algae and bacteria are shallow water critters that absorb their energy from the sun and don’t require oxygen, thus they were able to thrive in the oxygen free atmosphere of early earth.  Though they lived more than 2.7 billion years ago, they still exist today, but they aren’t abundant anymore.

This stromatolite fossil was collected in northern Arkansas from the Ordovician Everton Formation, and is about 450 million years old.

For more views of stromatolites, click here