Tag Archives: stromatolites

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

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: 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