Tag Archives: shale

Geopic of the week: Waterfalls

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Everyone knows that a waterfall is a place where a river or creek flows over a vertical drop-off, but did you know that there is a geologic reason why they form?  A waterfall, like Cedar Falls pictured above, forms where a hard, resistant rock such as sandstone overlies a soft, easily eroded rock like shale.  The difference in the rate each rock type weathers is what creates the waterfall.

When a stream passes over a single rock type, it erodes it evenly, carving a channel with a gradual slope.  However, when a stream’s course passes from a hard to a soft bedrock, it scours the soft rock at a faster rate.  As the supporting soft rock is eroded, the overlying harder rock progressively collapses, creating a vertical bluff over which the stream flows.  As this process continues an ever taller waterfall develops, and the location of the waterfall gradually migrates upstream.

Because we know how landforms such as waterfalls form, geologists can use tools, like aerial photographs and satellite images, to predict what kind of rock will be in an area before ever going there.

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Geopic of the week: injection feature

 

Sandstone injection feature hollywood quarry

Pictured above is what geologists term an injection feature or sand dike.  It formed when sand was violently forced upward into overlying clay before the sediment was cemented to form rock.  In environments where sediment is accumulating very quickly, water can get trapped and buried in a sand body;  as more sediment is deposited on top of the sand, the pressure causes the sand body to compress.  When water erupts upward to relieve the pressure, it carries sand with it which fills the fissure created by the escaping water. 

Geologists look for clues like injection features when trying to unravel the mystery of what conditions were like when a rock was deposited.  This particular rock is part of the Jackfork Formation which is exposed at the surface around Little Rock Arkansas and surrounding areas; it was deposited when the area was at the bottom of a deep ocean basin more than 300 million years ago.  Ink pen is for scale.

Geopic of the week: Turbidite deposits in Baumgartner Quarry

The Baumgartner quarry is located a little South of Kirby Arkansas along highway 27 in the Ouachita Mountains.  It exposes approximately 160 m. (590 ft.) of the upper Jackfork Formation which consists of interbedded sandstone and shale deposited  about 300 million years ago when the area that is now the Ouachita Mountains was a deep ocean basin.  Deep oceanic deposits such as these are the kind petroleum geologists explore for oil.  Because these deposits are exposed at the surface in southern Arkansas, geo-scientists from all over come here to study our rocks and gain a greater understanding of the deeply buried rocks they look for oil in in places like the Gulf of Mexico.  This is a view looking west along strike.

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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!

 

 

 

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. 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 Oct. 21-23, 2013

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Hello all! 

Another good week in the field!  Continued fairly dry fall weather means we’re still in the big drainages this week.  Finished up in Weaver Creek on Monday.  Still have the channel-bedded mostly shaly unit in the valley and the thin- to very thick-bedded sandstone unit on the southeast side of the valley.  Got to see the thickness of the alluvial cover in the high wall of a shale pit in the middle of the valley.  The owner states that the pit is 60 feet deep and is shaly to the bottom.  That’s a lot of shale!   The sandstone above it is at least that thick and probably more like 100 feet.  Still seeing channel beds within the sandstone unit as well.  A ribbon snake crossed our path heading toward the water. 

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The next day, we tried to cross the Middle Fork as we have done in past weeks, but there is already too much water in it.  There are some deep hollows on the east side that we needed to get to, but after fording the river proved impracticable, we resigned to going north on highway 9 and dropping off the top edge of the valley.  At least we started from the lowest saddle.  It was a fairly easy descent with a few washed out 4-wheeler trails helping out.  We knew right away we were in Witts Springs when we reached the bottom, but were surprised by how low the contact was when we reached the Cane Hill.  When we reached the river valley, we decided to follow a slough upstream to the next drainage on the east side.  This looked like the best route on the map, but was actually a thick canebrake with very few places to cross the slough.  We had a hard time getting in the upper end of this drainage a few weeks ago, and the lower end proved no different.  We were rewarded by finding a lot of deformation bands along non-vertical joints in the Witts Springs, and a drop of about a hundred feet in the contact with the Cane Hill between the drainages, which are only separated by about a mile.  At best may be a monocline in there.  On the way out we nearly ran over what I hope is the last moccasin of the season sunning on a very steep hillside above the drainage.  We gave him as wide a berth as we could and continued back to the river bottom.  This time we tried to avoid the slough and stayed closer to the river where the switch cane was thinner.  We backtracked up the hollow we came down earlier, then climbed back up the side to the highway.  So to summarize, river unfordable so drove around, hiked down 420 feet, bushwhacked a mile through canebrake, hiked up 320 feet, saw deformation bands, back down 320 feet, avoided snake, hiked a mile through woods, climbed back up 420 feet.  What a day!  

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On Wednesday we started on the west side of the river downstream of where we were the day before, and walked up one of two remaining large drainages before the river turns northeast at Shirley to follow the lineament.  We were rather surprised to find Imo near the mouth of the hollow.  This would make it the southernmost exposure of Imo mapped to date.  Saw good exposures of Cane Hill, which is mostly sandy through here, on the way to a classic example of the basal Witts Springs sandstone complete with exfoliation weathering. 

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Once we got out of there, it was back to Little Rock and back to reality. 

Oh, and I almost forgot.  I found this graph on the USGS website and thought you might find it interesting.  You can see that flood event on the last day of May this year that we are still seeing evidence of.  Apparently it was right up there with some of the biggest recorded events on the Middle Fork in that area.   

Stages on the Middle Fork at Shirley

Looks like we’ll be in the office next week, so next installment in two.  Until then, I’ll see you on the outcrop!

Tick attacks: very light

Snake count: 2