Friday fold: twice-folded turbidites at Black Pond

Today’s Friday fold comes to us courtesy of Gary Fleming, botanist extraordinaire and brother of Tony Fleming, geological Jack of All Trades. Together, the Fleming brothers led a field trip for the Geological Society of Washington. While I was on that field trip, the topic of polyphase deformation came up, which led a couple of weeks later to Gary sending me this photograph. He took this photo in the Black Pond area, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River near the property of Madeira School:

mathergorgefm_blackpond

That’s a set of twice-folded folds. The earlier generation of folds are quite tight enough that their limbs are parallel; we call this “isoclinal.” They display axial planes that run left-to-right across the photo. They are overprinted by a second generation of folds which are more open and broad. The second generation folds have axial planes which run top-to-bottom across the photo. Here’s an annotated copy showing the undulating form of the folds:

mathergorgefm_blackpond_anno

And here I’ve tacked on some color-coded axial plane traces: the first generation of folding (F1) is in yellow; the second generation (F2) is in blue:

mathergorgefm_blackpond_axes

The rocks in question are turbidites of the Mather Gorge Formation, folded up during the late-Ordovician episode of mountain building called the Taconian Orogeny. Relative to the orientation of this photograph, the F1 folds would have resulted from top-to-bottom compression, while the F2 folds would have resulted from a later episode of side-to-side compression.

It’s also worth noting the collection of small parasitic F2 folds in the schisty section at the top of the photo (greenish-gray, and partially obscured by mud).

Happy Friday! If your week has left you as contorted as these rocks, I hope you have a relaxing weekend…

Thanks to Gary Fleming for sharing this image and letting me publish it here.

Photos from Virginia Geological Field Conference

For the second year in a row, more exotic travel plans meant that I wasn’t able to attend the superb Virginia Geological Field Conference. I see that they have now posted some photos on the group’s Facebook page, so go check them out to see what we both missed last weekend. Here’s a taste:

Sheared meta-conglomerate:

Metamorphosed mantle (?) xenoliths:

Falls of the James III: river work

In today’s post, I’ll finish up with my geologic discussion of the falls of the James River in Richmond Virginia, south of Belle Isle. Previously, we’ve examined the bedrock at this location (the Petersburg Granite) and a series of fractures – some faults and some extensional joints – that deform that granite. Now we come to the final chapter in this story — the story of the river carving up these rocks as it incises downward along the Fall Zone.

Unlike my native Potomac River, there is no gorge carved along the James at the boundary between the metamorphic & igneous rocks of the Piedmont and the overlying Coastal Plain strata to the east.

But there is still some cool stuff to see. In my first post on Belle Isle, I mentioned the diversion dam that keeps the river-bottom bedrock (mostly) dry and available to geological scrutiny. That dam diverted some of the James River into a mill race which led to a hydroelectric power plant that was abandoned a half-century ago. Here’s a map showing the dam, mill race, and some other key features:

james_GE1

You’ll note that’s a Google Earth image that I’ve rotated 90° clockwise to fit it into this vertical-friendly blog space. North is to the right. I’ve highlighted the trends of the NNE- and ENE-oriented fracture sets that I discussed here yesterday, as well as the quarry pond on the north side of Belle Isle. You’ll also note a Δ-shaped logjam at the intake for the mill race. The mill race itself is choked with mud (the bigger debris is strained out at the inlet; but the mud makes it through). There are some mudcracks visible there:

fallsjames_river_01

Chuck is trying to talk a colleague into drilling a sediment core through this deposit — easily two meters thick. It might potentially provide an interesting sedimentological (and geochemical) account of the last 50 years.

Let’s zoom in further to the ~dry area of the river bed south of Belle Isle; the part the dam makes accessible to sunbathers, dope-smokers, fisherman, graffiti-artists, and geologists:

james_GE2

Again, north is to the right. You’ll note the obvious trend of the two dominant fracture sets, as well as a large number of elliptical ‘dots.’ These dots are potholes, semi-cylindrical holes that get drilled into the bedrock when water currents maintain vortices (plural of vortex: think a liquid tornado) in one place over an extended period of time. Some of these potholes line up in rows — like perforations at the top of a checkbook, these aligned potholes create planes of weakness that make it easier to pop out large slabs of rock in a quarrying process not unlike what humans do with their ‘plug & feather’ techniques.

In the close-up Google Earth image, at the lower left (southeast), you can see that I’ve placed a pair of black arrows pointing to a train of four potholes. One has a big boulder in it, and then there are three others with an elongated axis in the NNE-direction. We visited this particular chain of holes, and saw something interesting.

Here’s Chuck standing in the second pothole, with the boulder-containing pothole in the foreground:

fallsjames_river_02

You can just barely make out the two more northerly potholes in the far distance, but here’s a second shot showing them from the vantage of the northerly tip of the second pothole. The backpack and power plant should provide orienting landmarks:

fallsjames_river_03

Now take a look at that first photo again — take particular note of the magmatic schlieren in the bedrock. Recall that schlieren are curtain-like zones of more mafic minerals in the granite. You can see that the schlieren wrap around these potholes. Here, I’ll trace them out (crudely) for you:

fallsjames_river_02b

Potholes are recent geomorphological features imparted by the river. The schlieren formed ~320 million years ago — how could the older structure wrap around the younger carving? Chuck interprets this to mean that the potholes were etched out from some weaker/less stable rock type — perhaps some of the mafic-composition xenoliths that pepper the Petersburg Granite in this area. Certainly, we can see that the xenoliths often appear in long trains, strung out along the plane of magmatic foliation, and the schlieren wrap around those. If the river exploits the outcropping xenoliths as areas where it’s easier to drill, the ancient positioning of the xenoliths could lead to the modern positioning of the potholes. I’ve seen something very similar on the Billy Goat Trail (Potomac River, downstream of Great Falls), so it wasn’t too difficult for me to buy into this interpretation.

Have any of my readers seeing compositional variations (like xenoliths) controlling river geomorphology elsewhere? Do tell!

Finally, thanks again to Chuck for taking the time to show us around last Friday. Belle Isle is a cool place on many levels, and I’m glad I got the chance to check it out in person.

Falls of the James II: fractures

In my previous post, I introduced you to the Petersburg Granite, as it is exposed south of Belle Isle, at the falls of the James River in Richmond, Virginia. I mentioned that it was fractured, and I’d like to take a closer look at those fractures today.

The geologically-imparted fractures were exploited by human granite quarriers, and in some parts of the river bed, you can see the holes they drilled to break out big slabs of the rock. Some of these block-defining perforations exploited pre-existing fractures.

fallsjames_frac_07

This is also evident on the north side of Belle Isle itself, where there are several large abandoned quarries now mainly utilized as a rockclimbing locale. There are two dominant fracture sets in the area: one which parallels the schlieren (magmatic fabric), striking NNE; and a second which strikes ENE.

The meaning of these fractures are one of the problems Chuck Bailey (my host at Belle Isle) and his students have been considering. Under Chuck’s tutelage, James McCulla examined these fractures and reported his findings at the NE/SE GSA section meeting in Baltimore last March.

One of the first things Chuck showed me when we got to Belle Isle is some offset schlieren, like these:

fallsjames_frac_01

fallsjames_frac_02

fallsjames_frac_03

Let’s annotate those up, so you can orient yourself:

fallsjames_frac_01b

fallsjames_frac_02b

fallsjames_frac_03b

So clearly, that looks like a right-lateral offset, right? Of course, it could just be an apparent right-lateral offset, as perhaps the inclined schlieren have been offset in a vertical sense, then exposed by erosion on the same horizontal section. We need to determine the true offset direction. If we look at a vertical exposure of the fracture surface itself, will slickensides back that up? Here’s one…

fallsjames_frac_04

Yep, the slicks are very gently plunging (close to horizontal) and agree with the right-lateral offset we thought we saw in the horizontal exposures in the earlier photos. These are in fact true right-lateral offsets. Chuck is currently dating some muscovite that appears on these surfaces as a method of constraining the timing of deformation.

The other fracture set (NNE-trending, parallel to the schlieren) shows very little in the way of telling fracture-surface anatomy. There may be some weakly-developed steps facing to the upper left, but these surfaces are neither gouged nor mineralized:

fallsjames_frac_06

Chuck and James therefore interpret the NNE-trending fractures as extensional fractures and the ENE-trending fractures as faults with small offsets. It is worth noting that the NNE-trending extensional joint set is parallel to extensional faults in the Richmond Basin, a Triassic rift valley 15 km upstream.

So which came first? Here’s a confounding exposure:

fallsjames_frac_05

Allow me to lighten that up and annotate it for you:

fallsjames_frac_05b

We have two different relationships exposed here, less than a foot apart. At left, we see the NNE-trending joints truncating against the ENE-trending “fault.” At right, we see that the NNE-trending fracture steps to the right as it crosses the ENE-trending fracture. The left example suggests that the ENE “fault” is older, and the NNE joint came later, propagating to the pre-existing discontinuity but no further. The right example suggests that the NNE-trending joint was there first, but was then broken and offset (ever so slightly) in a right-lateral fashion, like the offset schlieren in the photos earlier in this post. In other words, the ENE “fault” is younger.

“Geology isn’t rocket science.” We know what’s going on with rockets — we built those suckers! This, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated!

Anyhow, Chuck and James have been over these rocks like gravy on rice, and they have documented many other instances of cross-cutting relationships. As James’ GSA abstract notes, they found enough exposures to feel confident interpreting the ENE-oriented set to be the older set to have formed as a result of WNW-directed contraction during the Alleghanian Orogeny. The NNE-oriented extensional fractures are the younger set, and are interpreted to have formed during Mesozoic extension accompanying the breakup of Pangea.

Next up, we should take a quick look at the James River itself, and the imprint it has left on this stupendous field site… Stay tuned…

Falls of the James I: pluton emplacement

Last Friday, NOVA colleague Victor Zabielski and I traveled down to Richmond, Virginia, to meet up with Chuck Bailey of the College of William & Mary, and do a little field work on the rocks exposed by the James River.

Our destination was Belle Isle, a whaleback-shaped island where granite has been quarried for dimension stone for many years. The island has also served as a Confederate prison for captured Union soldiers during the U.S. Civil War, and later for various industries. Today, it is preserved as park land, utilized by a wide swath of Richmond’s populace for recreational activities, both licit and non.

Fortunately, a large area of the James’ river bed south of Belle Isle is kept relatively dry by a long low diversion dam upstream. As a result, there are some mighty fine horizontal outcrops of rock:

fallsjames_05

The dam fed water into a hydroelectric power generation station, but that station has been abandoned for some time now:

fallsjames_09

The power plant dam has yielded enough exposure that some bedrock mapping is possible for those with the curiosity and fortitude to attempt it. Here’s a simplified geologic map of the area, authored by Chuck and his student James McCulla:

richmond_map

So you can see that most of the area is covered by sedimentary deposits of both modern and early Cenozoic vintage. Our goal, however, was the more interesting stuff beneath that. (All due respect to my sedimentological colleagues; the Coastal Plain just doesn’t get my juices flowing like ‘crystalline’ rocks do!)

So here’s what we came to see, the Petersburg Granite:

fallsjames_10

This is an Alleghanian pluton, ~320 Ma, and quite large: it extends for tens of kilometers north and south (Petersburg, the namesake locality, is to the south). It disappears beneath the Coastal Plain to the east, and beneath the Richmond Basin (a Triassic rift valley) to the west.

You can see from the photo above that in some places the Petersburg Granite is massive and equigranular, and in other places it’s “foliated,” with long dark lines running through it. These lines are schlieren, curtainlike zones of differing mineral ratios: more mafics than felsics, for instance. The schlieren (German for “lines”) are usually interpreted as magmatic flow structures as higher-temperature-crystallizing mafic crystals raft together in a more felsic flow. At Belle Isle, the schlieren are steeply dipping and trend NNE.

In places, there were also pegmatite bodies that were concordant (~parallel) with this overall magmatic fabric. Here’s an example of that texture:

fallsjames_01

And here’s a really big crystal of K-feldspar set amid finer-grained granitic groundmass. I guess you could call this a “megacryst”:

fallsjames_04

Another thing we saw a lot of were dark-colored inclusions in the granite. These were dark due to lots and lots of biotite mica in them. Here’s an example; notice how the schlieren wrap around it:

fallsjames_06

And another, with its long axis oriented parallel to the strike of the schlieren, suggesting alignment in the magma chamber before the granite set up:

fallsjames_07

How should we interpret these mafic inclusions? Are they xenoliths; fragments of country rock that were broken off and included in the intruding granitic magma? Or do they represent a plutonic emplacement process — perhaps an earlier stage of crystallization, or an immiscible bolus of mafic magma floating like a lava lamp blob in the surrounding felsic melt? When they’re fine grained and lacking internal structures, as with the above examples, it’s really hard to make that call.

On the other hand, this one clearly shows fragmentation along the right edge, suggesting to me that it was a coherent xenolith at the time the enveloping granite set up into solid rock:
fallsjames_08

That rules out the fluid-blob-within-another-fluid hypothesis, but is it country rock?

This one suggests that it is indeed country rock, as it is both foliated and kinked internally:
fallsjames_11

Here’s a heart-shaped inclusion which also suggests that it is a genuine xenolith. As with the previous example, it displays internal foliation that has been folded:

fallsjames_12

Victor ponders these xenoliths, as well as a dense clot of biotite (dark steak next to the yellow field notebook – not Chuck’s shadow, but parallel to it and closer to the photographer’s vantage point):

fallsjames_13

The photo above also shows how the schlieren wrap around these xenoliths. Here’s an example where the schlieren “tails” leave the xenolith “higher up” on the left side than the right side, suggesting a sinistral (counterclockwise) sense of magma-flow kinematics:

fallsjames_26

This one is a beauty. It’s almost perfectly circular in cross-section, though with little flanges coming off the upper left and lower right. However, the “tails” are both on the same side of the xenolith, so I don’t really feel like I’ve got a good bead on its kinematics:

fallsjames_19

A few more shots of these xenoliths:

fallsjames_22

fallsjames_20

This one is a cool one…

fallsjames_16

… because when you zoom in on the edge, you can see it has some ptygmatic folding inside it. Like the foliation and the broader folding we observed earlier, this internal structure suggests that these are genuine xenoliths; fragments of pre-deformed country rock.

fallsjames_17

Another xenolith, also showing this internal deformation of ptygmatically-folded granite dikes:

fallsjames_21

…And this one shows internal boudinage:

fallsjames_14

Chuck examines a small vertical surface to get a sense of what these xenoliths are doing in the third dimension:

fallsjames_23

This next bit was a real treat for me. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of boudinage, that brittle-ductile phenomenon that separates a more competent rock type into sausage-like chunks while a less competent rock type flows into the void between those chunks. Here’s some schlieren that evidently became thick enough slabs of biotite that they were able to behave as semi-coherent sheets, subject to boudinage:

fallsjames_15

…Not only that, but if you back out and follow these boudinaged schlieren along strike, you can see that they are folded, too! Check out these sweet isoclinally folded, boudinaged schlieren:

fallsjames_18

Biotite-rich inclusions which I interpret as similar “scraps of schlieren” which became entrained in later magmatic flows:

fallsjames_25

fallsjames_24

While everything I’ve talked about so far has been concordant with the dominant schlieren orientation (and thus reflective of main-stage magmatic flow in the Petersburg Granite), there are also some discordant features, like dikes, which cut across the regional fabric.

Here, for example, is an aplite dike:

fallsjames_02

Aplite is very felsic and displays a “sugary” fine-grained texture. This aplite dike is quite a nice feature, traceable over a long distance across the outcrop. We followed it a ways to a spot that Chuck was particularly eager to show us: a spot where the aplite dike crosses an earlier pegmatite dike, and then both dikes are cut by a right-lateral fault and a fracture set which parallels the schlieren. Check it out in outcrop (note the positive relief on the aplite dike):

fallsjames_03

And here’s a sketch of this outcrop (above photograph from the perspective of the lower right corner):

cross-cutting-belle_isle

What a fine spot to bring students and have them suss out the order of events! First came the massive granite, then the pegmatite dike, then the aplite dike, then sometime later under very different P/T conditions, the rock was fractured and we get fractures: some of which show an apparent right-lateral offset (faults; oriented ENE), and others where no offset is apparent (joints). This second set appears to be utilizing the schlieren as zones of weakness, as it is parallel to the schlieren (NNE) and often occurs along their biotite-rich traces.

Whether the faulting or the jointing came first is a question we’ll examine in the next episode

Crenulation lineation

Hiking last Sunday in Rock Creek Park, DC, I saw this boulder and my eye was immediately drawn to the linear pattern running from upper left towards lower right (Swiss Army knife at upper right for scale):

cren_2

Because that photo is not especially large, let’s zoom in a bit to two sections… Here is Photo 1, annotated to show the areas we will look at next:

cren_3

Here’s a cropped and higher-resolution look at the diagonal lineations that caught my eye:

cren_4

There are lots of different linear elements that can show up in rock fabric (as distinguished from the many kinds of planar elements that could be found). Some lineations are primary, but the ones that interest me are secondary (i.e., tectonic in origin). Let’s rotate our perspective, moving to the left of the first photo, and turning our head ~70° to look towards the right. This closer look at the left face of the boulder reveals the origin of these particular linear elements:

cren_1

…They are crenulation lineations, essentially very small folds that deform the cleavage of these highly-foliated rocks. The crenulations’ fold axes were popping out in very slight 3D relief on the face of the boulder that initially caught my eye, like tectonic “ripple marks.” On the right side of Photo 3, you can see the lineations (fold axes) stretching away into the blurry distance.

In addition, some of the convex-outward crenulations had been breached, which means that the trace of the foliation was outcropping along the same trend as the fold axis. This is a variety of intersection lineation: two planar elements intersecting in a line. In this case the planar elements are [a] the foliation and [b] the outcrop surface.

(The other, more “classic” variety of lineation is a mineral stretching lineation, like the lineated gneiss I showcased last November.)

So, how should we interpret these rocks? I’d say that an initial foliation was imparted to them due to shearing along the Rock Creek Shear Zone, a prominent north-south-trending zone of smeared rocks in northwest DC; about 1 km wide. The foliation formed perpendicular to an original σ1 maximum principal stress direction. Later, the stress field changed, and deformed this pre-existing foliation. The new σ1 was oriented (using Photo 1 as our reference) from the lower left towards the upper right. The new σ2 was oriented parallel to the crenulation fold axes (upper left towards lower right). And the new σ3 was oriented in the direction perpendicular to the main outcrop face — that’s why the folds pooched out in that direction. (It offered the least resistance to being pushed.)

Recall that we saw something similar in the snow back in February.

Anyhow, I had just gotten through discussing lineations with my GMU structure students, so I figured I should photograph this particular outcrop for their benefit…

…and, I suppose, for your benefit as well, dear blog reader.

Quartz veins on Pimmit Run

Last Sunday, I took a solo hike along Pimmit Run in Virginia, accessing the valley via Fort Marcy, a Civil War fortification off of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. As always, I did a bit of geologizing along the route. One theme that emerged from the day’s photos was quartz veins. These veins form when the host rock (in this case, the Sykesville Formation) cracked open in a brittle fashion, then silicon- and oxygen-bearing hydrothermal fluids flowed into that fracture. As the fluids cooled, the silicon and oxygen bonded together and precipitated quartz, sealing shut the fracture like a seam of glue.

Here’s one that I liked because it outcropped both above and below stream level:

qtz01

In several places along Pimmit Run, I saw small zones of saprolitic bedrock, which is basically “rotten rock,” where the Sykesville Formation outcrops have been more pervasively chemically weathered. This one was so soft that I was able to dramatically plunge the blade of my Swiss Army knife into the rotted rock adjacent to an unweathered quartz vein:

qtz03

Oblique view of the same outcrop:

qtz04

As a structural geologist, quartz veins are interesting because they are extensional features whose orientation relates to the stress field these rocks experienced in the distant past. Once formed, however, they can also act as strain markers to show how subsequent deformations have affected these rocks. Here, for instance, is a folded quartz vein:

qtz02

…and here’s a bonus tiger beetle:
tb

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