Tavşanlı Zone field trip, part 1

Before the Tectonic Crossroads conference two weeks ago, I had the good fortune to participate in a Istanbul-to-Ankara geology field examining the Tavşanlı Zone, a tectonic suture zone where a portion of the Tethys Ocean basin closed. This paleo-convergent boundary is marked by a suite of interesting rocks, including blueschists, ophiolites, and eclogites. I’d like to share with you some of the things I saw along the trip.

This is one of the trip leaders, Aral Okay (pronounced “Oh-kai,” okay?), discussing the general geology of the area at our first stop. (The other trip leader was Donna Whitney.)


I think in general, you can make out the east-west trend of the rock units on Aral’s map (where they aren’t obscured by alluvium). This reflects the approximate north-south convergence of the Tethys closure in Turkey. To visualize this, I’d like to call your attention to a paleogeographic interpretation of the Tethys Ocean from Ron Blakey, the talented mapmaker from Northern Arizona University:


See all those colliding east-west-oriented crustal fragments in the northwestern Tethys? Those are the pieces that will comprise future Turkey. As you can imagine, rocks caught up in these tectonic collisions got both deformed and metamorphosed. Some of them were even subducted to ~80 km depth, and then brought back up to the surface! At our first stop, we saw some blueschist-grade rocks that had a phyllitic texture. Here’s two of them:


As usual, my eye was drawn towards the structures visible in these rocks. Here are a couple of nice little folds:



(The Turkish 1-lira coin is the same size as a U.S. quarter.)

I found this to be an interesting portion of the outcrop:


That’s green phyllite on the left, and blue phyllite on the right. Allow me to annotate it for you:


“Blueschist” and “greenschist” refer to two assemblages of minerals which supposedly represent different combinations of temperature and pressure. They are examples of metamorphic “facies,” as illustrated in this image:


Image redrawn and modified by me from Figure 3 of Bousquet, et al. (2008), which is itself modified from Oberhänsli, et al. (2004), and also from University of British Columbia (1997), which is modified from Yardley (1988).

Theoretically, blueschists and greenschists should be forming at different combinations of pressure and temperature. Blueschist forms at high pressures, but relatively low temperatures. But here we have an outcrop of blueschist that is right adjacent to a greenschist (medium temperature and pressure), with no faulting in between. It was suggested to me by a blueschist expert that this was likely a reflection in differences in the initial composition of the protoliths. I found this explanation less than completely satisfying, but there was no time to discuss, for we were being called back to the bus, already gunning its engine and ready to roll down the road.

At our second stop, we found some metamorphic rocks that showed clear textural evidence of having had pyroclastic protoliths:


There were lots of chunky bits in there.


So it wasn’t just pelitic (muddy) rocks that were getting metamorphosed in this Tethyan suture zone, but volcanic rocks too!

More later… when we move on to stop #3


Duke Stone

I wrote last fall about my visit to the Duke Quarry, home of a charismatic metavolcanic rock used to face buildings on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Here’s a sample of the “Duke Stone” that I brought back to NOVA, cut, polished, lacquered, and scanned. It’s quite lovely. You can click through (twice) for the biggest version:

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Graph beauty: T vs. viscosity for lavas

I spent the day lazily reading the igneous petrology chapters of Petrology by Blatt, Tracy, and Owens (third edition, 2006). Last time I read it, I didn’t get all that much from the igneous section, but this time around that’s the thing that motivated me to delve into it again. I don’t remember enough about igneous petrology from my school days, and while I have a little breathing room this summer, it seemed to me that I could bone up on it a bit.

One thing that caught my eye this afternoon was Figure 4-15, on page 78. I have redrawn it for you here:


I love beautiful graphs like this. It compares viscosity (resistance to flow, as measured in pascal-seconds; each pa-s is the same as 10 poise) to temperature (as measured in degrees Celsius). Five different compositions of lava are plotted: komatiite, basalt, andesite, dacite, and rhyolite.

First off, you’re no doubt struck by the inverse relationship between temperature and viscosity. The hotter the lava is, the less viscous it is (more runny; easier to flow).

Second, higher-silica-content lavas (rhyolites, dacites) are much more viscous than lower-silica content lavas (basalts, komatiites). Silica (and, to a lesser extent, alumina) form polymer-like chains. The more silica there is (up to 75 wt% in some rhyolites), the more of these sticky, web-like chains can form. This is why you can see lava dripping off the molten basalt in this video, but the molten granite clings to its source rock. Water actually interrupts the formation of these silica polymers, and thus lowers viscosity when it is present.

I’m also struck, looking at this graph, of the difference in temperatures plotted from left to right. This corresponds with observed lava eruption temperatures of different compositions. Low-silica lavas erupt at high temperatures, as they are chock full of high-crystallization-temperature mineral components. (They wouldn’t erupt at all at lower temperatures, because they would be solid.) High-silica lavas erupt at relatively low temperatures, as the components they contain will crystallize into minerals like quartz at relatively low temperatures.

Ironically, though we might think “high temperatures = more dangerous,” the opposite is true. Low-silica lavas tend to erupt effusively, with relatively little risk for human life. You can outrun a lava flow — with rare exceptions, even low viscosity lavas still only flow a few hundred meters per hour. The lower-temperature lavas, on the other hand, are the ones to worry about — because they’re viscous. This “stickiness” means they tend to clog up magmatic plumbing and allow greater pressures to build up. Couple this idea with the tendency of high-silica lavas to also be rich in dissolved gases, and you get a much more explosive style of eruption.



Spera, F.J. (2000) “Physical properties of magma,” in Encyclopedia of Volcanoes, H. Siggurdsson, ed. San Diego CA: Academic Press. {Fig. 4}

Mount Taranaki

Searching around for the current Where on Google Earth, I found this astonishing place in western New Zealand:


That’s Mount Taranaki, and evidently the vegetation change you see in the circular colored shape around the mountain must be due to a protected-area boundary. Check out the radial drainage pattern on that sucker!

Check it out yourself here.

Photos from Eyjafjallajökull

My friend Barry R., now residing in PostDocVille, Denmark, took a trip to Iceland last week to check out the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. Unfortunately, by the time he got to the volcano, it was no longer spouting lava, but the scene is dramatic regardless.

You can sample some of his photos below, or see the whole album on Facebook.


Glacial terminus and moraine:

Ash on ice (steam rising beyond the hills):

Where the volcano has melted the local ice:

Thanks to Barry for letting me share his volcano photos here. He’s the second University of Maryland alum to do so! It seems to be a trend…

Baked fanglomerate

A quick post to share a few images of an outcrop I visited last September out in California’s Owens Valley. This is a spot where alluvial fans coming off the eastern Sierra Nevada were overrun by a basaltic lava flow (Jeff, Kim, Fred, and Kurt for scale):


The unofficial term for these conglomerates deposited by alluvial fans is “fanglomerate,” and it’s pretty cool to see the contact metamorphism at the top of the fanglomerate. There’s also some weakly-developed columnar jointing in the basalt. Here’s an annotated version, in case the contact wasn’t quite obvious enough:


Here’s a close up (Doug for scale), showing the orange zone of thermal metamorphism at the top of the fanglomerate as the lava flow above baked the hell out of it:


Groovy, eh? Where’s your favorite example of contact metamorphism?

Transect debrief 3: Rodinian rifting

The Grenville Orogeny, responsible for Virginia’s basement complex, was one mountain-building event among many that helped put together a Mesoproterozoic supercontinent called Rodinia. But Rodinia didn’t last: it broke apart during the Neoproterozoic to form the Iapetus Ocean basin. This rifting event is recorded in Virginia’s Blue Ridge province in the Swift Run Formation and the Catoctin lava flows.

It’s probably about time to start putting some of these rock units in stratigraphic context. Here’s my redrawing (and updating) of a cartoon Shenandoah National Park stratigraphic column based on an original by Tom Gathright (1976):

You’ll notice here that the Swift Run Formation is interbedded with the Catoctin Formation, a Neoproterozoic series of lava flows fed by fissure eruptions (kind of like what’s happening this week in Iceland).

Trickling downhill away from these fissure eruptions would have been flows of basaltic lava (tholeitic, indicating a mantle source chemistry). If you want a warmer modern analogue than Iceland, look to the Afar Triangle region of Ethiopia:

As with Neoproterozoic Virginia, the continental crust of modern Ethiopia is stretching, opening up topographic grabens which are being filled with clastic influx from the surrounding highlands and mafic lava which is formed from decompression melting in the underlying mantle, and funneled to the surface via feeder dikes. In places you will see streambed conglomerates interlayered with the mafic lava flows, and in places there are tuffs and rhyolites that are a (volumetrically-small) part of the package. Elsewhere there are lake sediments. The two bear a common geologic signature, despite being separated by thousands of miles and half a billion years. There’s that refrain again: Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

Once on the surface, the lava cooled, and in some places, columnar jointing formed:

The cooling age on some of the rhyolitic upper units in the Catoctin Formation is 570-565 Ma (Rb/Sr on pyroxene by Badger and Sinha, 1988). Some mafic and felsic dikes (could be feeders) associated with the unit yield the same age via U/Pb (Aleinikoff and others, 1995).

At some point, ancestral North America (“Laurentia”) drifted away from the spreading center, and volcanism ceased. The crust cooled, subsided, and then a sequence of sedimentary rocks began to accumulate atop the cooled lava flows. This transgressive sequence of sediments (the Chilhowee Group) is the next thing up in the stack. More on that later.