Tag Archives: Geology

Jökulsárlón

As promised, here is another post from my Iceland trip.  This time it’s of Jökulsárlón.  To be honest I don’t know why this place isn’t better known.  For me I think it’s one of the natural crown jewels of Europe, nevermind of Iceland.  Basically Jökulsárlón is a semi-tidal lagoon on the south-east coast of Iceland and formed in the 1930’s by the retreat of Breiðamerkurjökul.  Breiðamerkurjökul’s moraines formed the edge of the lagoon and there is a small tidal river connecting the lagoon to the sea.  But what for me makes this place so special are the icebergs.  Breiðamerkurjökul carves the icebergs which then float around in the lagoon, slowly melting.  Some of them do make it down the small river floating out to the sea, but also being pushed back by the tide and landing on the beach forming yet more amazing ice blocks on the black sand.  OK so that’s enough of me talking lets have some pictures.

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I think the one above looks a bit like a seal’s head.

DSCN3065The pictures really don’t do this place justice.  Maybe I just don’t get out enough but this is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited.  I probably will never get to go to Antarctica or the high Arctic, but this is pretty close.  This is one place that should be on a lot of peoples’ bucket lists and I’m glad to have ticked it off mine.

 

Lilleshall Mount

About halfway between Telford and Newport, along the A518 is the lovely little village of Lilleshall.  Watching over it is the Lilleshall Hill.  At 132m high above the flat farmland it’s pretty hard to notice,  especially with a 21m high monument sitting on top of it.

Location & Access: The Hill is just to the east of the A518 and can be accessed via a small tract just off a road called Hillside East which comes off just opposite the church.  There isn’t a lot f space to park in the village so you may have to pull in to the side of the road just outside.  At just over 100m above the plain it’s hardy a struggle to climb up, though the path can be a little muddy after it has rained.  The path slopes gently and so should prove too much of a problem.

Geology: Lilleshall Hill represents the northern most exposure of the Uriconian Volcanic group and is itself made up of a mixture of rhyolite, andesite, basalt and tuff.  This would make the formation about 542-635 million years old.

DSCN0432There are a few decent exposures for anyone who wants a sample, and being the short then its relatives the Wrekin and Caradoc it takes a little less effort for those who don’t want to climb for too long.

For a modest sized hill you can get a decent view of the Wrekin to the south-west as well as the sandstone ridges that rise out of the North Shropshire and South Cheshire plains.

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Other Stuff: The Monument is dedicated to the first Duke of Sutherland and is pretty impressive.

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Dedicated to George Granville Leveson-Gower, the 1st Duke of Sutherland, it looks to be made of local sandstone.  I rather enjoy the inscription and how he is described as “the most just and generous of landlords”.  I’d like to hear what his tenants really thought of him, though I shall be very unscientific and read between the lines of the “he went down to his grave with the blessing of his tenants” as perhaps giving a hint of that.  For those who maybe unaware, this Duke of Sutherland was one of the richest men of his era and he was in part responsible for the Highland Clearances that were taking place in Scotland at the time…a fantastic example of the needs of the rich capitalist overriding those of the poor labourer…sorry went on a ‘high horse’ moment there.  But seriously if you’re unaware of the main cause for the Scottish Highlands being one of the least populated parts of Europe then I suggest you read up on it.

Anyway back to happier things.  The light scrub land around the hill, coupled with the farmers’ fields in the area makes it a good place to see wildlife (in particular birds).  Sparrowhawks, buzzards, wrens, finches and woodpeckers are common sights.

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Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006),  iGeology map from the BGS (2014) and the notice board from the site, Wikipedia for the Duke of Sutherland.

 

Wenlock Edge

The Wenlock Edge is a limestone escarpment that runs about 31km (19 miles) through the countryside of Shropshire.  At its northern point is the village of Much Wenlock and at the south Craven Arms.

Location & Access: Being such a long feature it isn’t that hard to miss on a map of Shropshire, basically look south of Telford and you should find it easily enough.  The road B4371 runs along the top of most of the Edge.  There are several car parks along the Edge as well as many paths to walk, so there are lots o places to visit depending upon your ability ad how long you want to be up there.  For me I like to pull in at a car park just north-east of the village of Presthope.  There is a nice walk along the top of a quarry.

Geology: The Wenlock Edge is made up of limestone and lime-muds from the Silurian Period (about 423-426ma).  The area used to be a reef and fossils are abundant along this walk.

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The fossils you can find there are mostly corals, crinoids and shell fragments.

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Above are some pictures of some of the fossils that can be found; mostly corals and fragments of shell.  It’s one of the best places in the county to go fossil hunting.  Pretty much every rock you pick up will contain something of interest.  Fossil collecting is allowed at the Edge, just try not to do too much damage as you do so and remember to leave something for those who will follow.

Along with fossils you can find places where you can see the results of sedimentation, bedding plains and folds (albeit in miniature).

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Other Stuff: Along with geology the Edge is a good place to enjoy the English countryside.  The area is a composite of mixed woodland and farmers fields full of livestock.

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It’s also a place of a lot of woodland wildlife.  Some of the birds that you’ll see include Blue, Great and Marsh Tits, all sorts of finches, Greater Spotter Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Common Buzzards and I’ve even seen Red Kites on rare occasions.

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Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006),  Sedimentary Petrology (3rd Edition) by Maurice E. Tucker (2001), iGeology map from the BGS (2014) and the notice board from the site.

Hulme Quarry

For today’s geological site, I’ve gone beyond the boundaries of my native Shropshire to neighbouring Staffordshire.

Location & Access: Hulme Quarry is located to the east of Stoke-on-Trent, about 1km north-east of Longton at 52*59’49” N, 2*06’28” W.  The whole area is a country park (Parkhall Country Park), nature reserve and a designated SSSI.  The site can be reached from either the A520 (Weston Road) or the A5272 (Park Hall Road).  There are plenty of carparks at the site and most of the paths are wide and well maintained.  There are a few inclines, but nothing too steep (depending upon the path).  There are multiple paths so that someone with mobility issues should still be able to enjoy the place.

Geology: The whole quarry is dominated by the Hawksmoor Formation 246-251Ma which puts it at the very early Triassic Period.  The whole quarry is a collection of red sandstone and conglomerate, and is an excellent place to see this formation.  The quarry sides are easily observable and accessible (though be careful of falling rocks).

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The conglomerate and sandstone can be seen on top of each other in bedding layers.  In the sandstone you can see the cross bedding from the movement of the ancient sand dunes.  There are small layers of pebbles in the sandstone suggesting periodic water movement over the sand dunes.  The conglomerates are the result of a river that moves over the area, and was probably ephemeral.  This is evidenced by the presence of regular graded bedding amongst the pebbles, suggesting regular changes in the flow of the water.  The pebbles themselves are made up mostly of well rounded quartz.

iphone pics 09_14 720The red colour of the rock comes from the presence of iron oxides, left behind by evaporating water.  The combination of red colour, cross bedding sand dunes and ephemeral streams shows that this place was once a desert.  This is typical of rocks from the Permian and Triassic that can be found around Britain.  Occasionally you might find a small patch of mudstone.  I remember being shown some when I visited this site at university several years ago, though I couldn’t find it again this time.

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Other Stuff: The whole area is a beautiful place to walk around.  There are numerous paths, plenty of places to walk, pine tree forests and areas of lowland heath & brush.  There’s bird watching for those that are into that sort of thing, plus plenty of places to ride a bike.  On a hot summers day, with the brush and the red sand, it’s easy to imagine the areas desert past.

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Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006), Geology (2nd Edition) by Stanley Chernicoff (1999), Sedimentary Petrology (3rd Edition) by Maurice E. Tucker (2001), iGeology map from the BGS (2014) and the notice board from the site.

 

Rock Box – The Rock Cycle

Welcome to my new series of posts called Rock Box.  I will work on these as and when the mood takes me, but my aims are thus; 1) when work commitments prevent me from adventuring out and about, it gives me a chance to do some ‘arm-chair geology’; 2) over the years like many a geogeek I have gathered up a small collection of rock samples…and they could do with organising, so this gives me an excuse; 3) it allows me to explain some basic geological principles to the masses.  So let’s dive in to my rock box. My first post will be a basic introduction to the rock cycle and the major rock groups.  This is to provide a foundation for the rest of the Rock Box series.

The Rock Cycle

Rock Cycle 1a The above diagram is a simplified look at the rock cycle.  The rock cycle starts with magma – molten rock.  As it cools it solidifies into one of the many types of igneous rocks.  From this it can either be eroded away into sediment, or re-heated to form a metamorphic rock.  The sediment will eventually be deposited to form a sedimentary rock and this in turn can either be eroded again into sediment or put under intense heat & pressure to form a metamorphic rock.  And as you’ll have probably guessed by now, the metamorphic rock will either be eroded into sediment or melted into magma.

Igneous Rocks

Igneous rocks are usually put in to two categories; plutonic and volcanic.  In the case of the first, the molten rock moves towards the surface, through pre-existing rock layers, but cools & solidifies before it actually reaches the surface.  Under these circumstances the magma usually cools slowly allowing large crystals to form from minerals with a higher melting temperature.  As the temperature reduces, minerals with a lower melting point start to solidify around the larger crystals.  Examples include granite, gabbro and diorite.

Volcanic rocks occur where the magma has reached the surface (now referred to as lava) and then cooled.  Contact with the air or water usually means that these rocks solidify very rapidly, this causes the crystals to be smaller as they don’t have time to grow.  In the case of more explosive volcanic eruptions the rock can contain air bubbles (both from the dissolved gases in the magma, and from the air it enters whilst cooling). Basalt, rhyolite, pumice and andesite are examples of volcanic rocks. Igneous rocks where the crystals are large & easily visible are referred to as having a phaneritic texture.  Rocks where the crystal are small have a aphanitic texture.

To complicate things even further igneous rocks are also divided by their mineral composition into felsic, intermediate, mafic and ultramafic. Igneous types chart 1aSome examples of good places in the UK to look at igneous rocks;

  • The Uriconian Hills of Shropshire (yeah I’m a Shropshire lad so you can guess why this is top of the list)
  • The Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) range in Wales
  • Cairngorm & Nevis Ranges in Scotland
  • Central Lake District
  • The Granite domes of Cornwall – Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor & Lands End
  • The Isle of Skye (highly recommend)
  • The Giants Causeway, N. Ireland

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Hay Tor – Granite (Dartmoor, Devon, UK)

Common characteristics of Igneous Rocks are;

  • Solid & hard rock
  • Dense crystal structure
  • Non-porous
  • Often associated with hills & mountains as they tend to be more resistant to erosion
  • Often contain heavy metals & precious stones

Sedimentary Rocks

Sedimentary rocks are formed by the layered deposition of material, often sourced from other rocks.  Sedimentary rocks can be put into several broad categories;

  • Detrital/Siliciclastic
  • Organic Sedimentary
  • Inorganic Chemical
  • Volcaniclastic sediments

Detrital or Clastic rocks are made up of the eroded remains of other rocks cemented together.  Those rocks made up of larger grains (in this case pebbles) cemented together are called conglomerates and breccias.  As the gains get smaller you come to the sandstones, which sometimes contain small pebbles, but are dominated by sand-sized grains.  Finally you reach the mudstones. siltstones and shales which are made up of very small grains (<0.063mm).  These rocks are typically the result of a watery depositional environment such as a river, lake or shallow sea.  This is however not always the case, and other environments such as hot deserts also leave clastic remains.  An example would be the red sandstones from the Permian & Triassic Periods that are common across Europe.  The orange/red colour coming from a layer of hematite that coats the grains.

Organic sedimentary rocks are a mixed group, but all have an organic origin.  One type is limestone which is made up of calcite.  There are a few varieties of limestone from the oolitic with its calcium covered spherical grains to the fossiliferous with its mass of broken fossils.  There are also lime-rich muds and chalk which is made up of the calcium rich remains of microbes called coccolithophores.  As well as the limestones there are the organic ‘rocks’ we commonly refer to as fossil fuels; coal, oil and mineral gas.  OK oil and gas aren’t technically a solid rock, but they have the organic origin and are made from the remains of marine organisms.  These are characterised by the high content of hydrocarbons…something we have found very useful in the 20th century.

Inorganic chemical sedimentary rocks are those that are the result of an inorganic process that deposits the rock layer.  One of the most common of these are the evaporites, rocks that form when water containing dissolved salts evaporates, leaving the salts behind.  Common evaporites are halite, gypsum and anhydrite. Last of all is a cross over of igneous and sedimentary rock.

The volcaniclastic sediments are mainly the result of layers of ash (called tuff), along with pyroclastic flows and occasionally volcanic mud flows called lahars.

Some examples of good places in the UK to look at sedimentary rocks…well most places really, they are really common on the surface;

  • For limestone the Wenlock Edge in Shropshire and the cliffs of Lyme Regis have a lot of fossil rich material, the Yorkshire Dales with their limestone pavements and the North & South Downs plus the White Cliffs of Dover with their chalk.
  • Coal can be found in several layers in amongst the Carboniferous rocks of the Midlands, Pennines and up towards Leeds, along with the Glasgow area.
  • Permo-Triassic rock, including evaporites forms the foundation of much of Cheshire.
  • The Padarn Tuff Formation near Bangor in Wales will be the place to go for volcaniclastic rocks.

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Bedding planes – Comley Sandstone (Ercall Quarry, Shropshire, UK)

Common characteristics of Sedimentary Rocks are;

  • Wide variety of grain sizes depending upon the depositional environment.
  • Often porous and form the source of aquifers and hydrocarbon stores.
  • Contain fossils, and in some cases are almost entirely made up of fossils.

Metamorphic Rocks

The last type of rock is metamorphic rock.  Metamorphic rocks are formed when heat and/or pressure is applied to a rock.  In the earth’s crust & upper mantle the temperature increases at an average rate of 20-30*C per kilometre of depth.  A temperature of about 200*C is needed to start metamorphose of rock and is usually reached about 10km depth.  Pressure is applied to rocks in two different formats.  Lithostatic or confining pressure pushes on the rock from all sides, compressing it fairly evenly.  This usually takes place as a result of deep burial.  In this case the becomes compressed into a smaller, denser form, but maintains the same basic shape.  Directed pressure results when force is applied from a principle plane of direction.  This commonly occurs at tectonic plate boundaries, fold mountains and faults.  This typically deforms on the plane on which the highest pressure is applied.

Rocks that have been metamorphisied are denser than their parent rock.  This is because the pressure pushes the grains together, closing the pores between them.  In directed pressure the grains usually line up perpendicular to the principle direction of pressure.  This prefered alignment is known as foliation.  This often results in metamorphic rocks having a coloured banded pattern.  The increased pressure also has another side effect.  The pressure releases fluids (such as water) from the rock.  This helps facilitate chemical reactions, often resulting in the metamorphic rock having a different chemical composition to its parent rock.

There are several different types of metamorphism, with contact & regional being the most common types.

Contact Metamorphism: This is when a the metamorphism takes place as a result of contact with a heat source.  This is common when you have a magma intrusion.  The metamorphism decreases with increased distance form the heat source.  This type is usually very local.  A good place to see this is around the granite outcrops in Devon.

Regional Metamorphism: This is when the metamorphism is over a large region.  This has two sub-types; burial and dynamothermal.  Burial metamorphism takes place when rocks are overlain by 10km or more of rock.  Dynamothermal metamorphism occurs during mountain building when the rocks are deformed and heated, with some of them being pushed upwards to form the mountains and some of it being pushed downwards to form the mountain base, where heat & pressure work on the rock.  One of the best places in the world to see regional metamorphism this is in Canada where the Canadian Shield covers about half of the country and used to be at the base of a mountain range.

Hydrothermal Metamorphism: This is when a chemical alteration of the parent rock occurs when it comes into contact with hot water.  This is common in volcanic areas with hydrothermal vents.

Fault-zone Metamorphism: Rocks on either side of the fault generate direct pressure on each other, along with frictional heat.

Shock Metamorphism: This occurs where a meteorite hits the ground and the intense heat & pressure causes the metamorphosis.

Pyrometamorphism: Probably the coolest sounding type (yeah I know, not a very scientific thing to say) and is the result of high temperatures but without the pressure.  This can happen in such occurrences as lightning strikes and natural underground coal fires.

Good places to see metamorphic rocks in the UK are;

  • Contact metamorphic zones around the granite outcrops in Devon & Cornwall
  • The slate mine & hills of northern Wales
  • By far the best place, and one that I would recommend if you ever get the chance is the north-west Highlands of Scotland.

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Lewisian Gneiss Formation – gneiss with granite and dolerite (Laxford Bridge, North-west Highlands, Scotland, UK).

Common characteristics of metamorphic rocks;

  • Dense, hard and heavy.
  • Non-porous.
  • Multiple coloured banding.
  • Traces of parent rock.

Final Thoughts

I hope this has been of use/interest to people and not just me whittering on.  I plan on using it as a foundation of other geologically related items, especially as I go through the laborious task of organising my rock collection.  This is a very brief introduction to the rock cycle and the various rock groups.  If you want to know more I suggest finding a good geology textbook.

 References: Fundamentals of the Physical Environment (3rd Edition) by P. Smithson, K. Addison & K. Atkinson (2002).  Geology (2nd Edition)by S. Chernicoff (1999).  Geology of Shropshire (2nd Edition) by P. Toghill (2006).  The Geology of Britain – An Introduction by P. Toghill (2006).  Fossil Revolution – the finds that changed our view of the past by D. Palmer (2003).  Sedimentary Petrology (3rd Edition) by Maurice E. Tucker (2001).

Ingleborough Cave

Time for my second post of my Yorkshire Dales trip.  As I alluded to in my last post about Malham Cove, one of our goals for the trip was to visit Gaping Gill.  Sadly this wasn’t open due to a technical fault, so instead we visited the nearby Ingleborough Cave.  One thing to note is that this isn’t a potholer’s cave, it’s a show cave.  My own potholing experience amounts to a trip down an abandoned slate mine in Wales…anything more adventurous and I’m likely to become a troglodyte.  Oh and apologizes for the quality of some of the images, it’s a little hard to take photos in the dark cave light.

Location & Access: To get to the cave, park in the village of Clapham, just off the A65.  The cave is about 2km north of the village located around 54*08’05” North, 2*22’38” West.  To get to the cave you follow the path north out of the village.  The path is wide and in very good condition (rather bizarrely a toll path too so bring some pennies), so you shouldn’t have to much trouble walking to the cave.  Sadly there is no closer public vehicular access, so you’ll have to walk.  Being a show cave, Ingleborough Cave is geared towards families, the access is good and the cave floor has been given a layer of concrete to allow disabled usage.  This doesn’t spoil the aesthetic to much.  The tour of the cave does involve a guide and will cost money some bring some cash.

Geology:  The cave is in the bedding planes of the Garsdale Limestone Formation (331-339Ma) and like Malham Cove it was once a shallow, carbonate sea.  In some places you can actually see the fossils of the coral and other organisms.

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The cave was carved out by river water and was partially filled in by glacial till, some of which has been removed to open up the cave.  Not all of it has been and the full extent of the cave is not yet know.

IMG_2206Excavations are still on going and have brought up the remains of a woolly rhinoceros tooth, from the Devensian Glaciation (about 10,000 years ago).

There are several underwater pools still in the cave, and the cave itself is regularly flooded when there are heavy thunderstorms.  When the cave was first explored in 1837 it was flooded, the water held back by a calcite dam.  This was blasted to drain the lake at the time, but parts of another calcite dam can be seen.

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The historic level of the cave water is marked out at a level where you find the cave coral deposits below the waterline and the flowstone above.

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There are plenty of stalactites and stalagmites in the cave of various sizes, the biggest of which is The Sword of Damocles and is a few metres long.

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Along with these you will see plenty of helictites and speleogens as well as other cave formations.  A look at the feature image to this post shows how the natural cleavage & faults in the rock are exploited by the water and form the basis of the stalactites.

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Overall this a good cave to visit, especially if you are not an experienced caver, and a good alternative to Gaping Gill if the winch is broken.  It’s a show-cave, but a good one.  There are plenty of formations to see, and if you are in the area I would recommend visiting the cave if you have a spare couple of hours.  They also have a good website explaining the cave and showing more pictures at www.ingleboroughcave.co.uk.

Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006), Geology (2nd Edition) by Stanley Chernicoff (1999), http://www.ingleboroughcave.co.uk and the tour guide on the day.

Malham Cove

This week I have had the opportunity to visit the fantastic Yorkshire Dales in the north of England.  I got a chance to visit a few sites.  Much to our disappointment we weren’t able to get down Gaping Gill due to a technical fault with the winch, so we instead saw a few other places and I’d thought I’d share them with you.  The first is epic Malham Cove.

Location & Access:  Malham Cove is located in the south half of the Yorkshire Dales National Park at approximately 54*21’41” North, 2*09’28” West, about 1km from Malham village.  You can park a car in the village (itself a wonderful place to see) and walk up the road to the cove.  The road is good and there is a slight incline.  just above the village is a clearly marked, good quality path to the cove…and to be honest you really can’t miss it from there.  People with mobility issues shouldn’t have much trouble walking along the path, though the road can be a bit of a trek.  Warning!  The main path goes through a field of cows so beware of bovines.

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Geology:  The underlying rock is Carboniferous Limestone from the Garsdale and Danny Bridge Formations (331-339Ma), and represents a depositional environment of a shallow carbonate sea, full of corals and shell creatures.  That was then, what about now?  Like much of northern England the current landscape is largely the result of the various glaciations of the past, in particular the Devensian glaciation which ended about 10,000 years ago.  Malham Cove is thought to have been formed slightly earlier (about 12,000 years ago) as the ice retreated north.  The melting glaciers produced a large amount of run-off, and with the ground still being semi-frozen permafrost the water eroded the limestone instead of infiltrating into and dissolving it as happens now.

This led to the wonderful dry water seen today.  The semi-circular Malham Cove is about 80m high and about 300m across.  This makes it higher, but only about half as wide as the horse-shoe at Niagara Falls.  This gives you an idea of what the falls would have looked like in full flow 12,000 years ago.

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IMG_2331You can see the bedding planes in the limestone and if you look at the right of the image above you should be able to see two climbers ascending the cliff face (right of the centre tree, about half way up the picture in yellow).  This gives you an idea of the scale of the place.  At the base of the cliff is a small stream, exiting from one of the many underground river systems in the Dales.

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Although you should always be careful approaching a cliff face I would recommend getting as near to the base as possible and looking up…it’s fantastic.  I tried to take a few pictures, but none of them do it justice, so you’ll just have to go there yourself.  Stand in the centre of the horse-shoe, close to the base and look up, it’s this wonderful bowl shape.

Above the falls is another wonder of the Dales; the limestone pavement.

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These are a special feature, common to the Dales, but rare in the rest of the UK.  The flat surface is a bedding plane in the limestone, exposed by glacial & periglacial erosion.  This produces the flat ‘paving slabs’ called clints.  The gaps in between are the result of rain water getting into cracks in the limestone and dissolving some of it.  These gaps are called grykes.  Walking along a limestone pavement is quite an experience, but be warned some of the clints are wobbly and the grykes can be wide and deep.  Some of them may even be filled in with a thin layer of soil & grass so watch your step.

Other Stuff: You’ve got glacial valleys & erosion, caves, underwater rivers & springs, a dry waterfall higher than Niagara and limestone pavements…what more could you want? OK well aside from the geology it is also a great pace to catch a glimpse of one of my favourite birds; the Peregrine Falcon.  These nest up on the cliff face your chances of seeing one is good.

To sum up, if you are ever in the north of England Malham Cove is worth the visit.  The pictures I’ve posted really don’t do it justice, you’ll have to go see it for yourself.  Stay geogeeky as I’ve got more from the Dales that I’ll post soon.  Enjoy.

Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006), Geology (2nd Edition) by Stanley Chernicoff (1999).

 

 

iGeology – app review

Greetings fellow geogeeks.  I know I’ve been quiet the past few weeks, this is mostly due to work commitments, but I have been working on a few new articles, they’re just taking me a little longer to get to writing than I expected.  So I thought I’d add a little post to keep you occupied; a review of an app – iGeology.

I’m one of those annoying people who has iPhone and won’t shut up about it (be honest you all know at least one person like that…you may even be that person).  About a year ago whilst I was browsing the app store like a digital sauropod I came across an app called iGeology and got instantly excited.  The app is free and is from the British Geological Survey (BGS) and is an interactive geological map of the UK.

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The map is made from the information on the BGS maps of the country and as you’d expect from such a prestigious organisation is accurate and incredibly detailed.  Take a look at the map for my home county of Shropshire

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You can play around with the layers to look at the surface and/or bedrock geology.  You can look at the locations of and findings from boreholes in the area.  They even have a layer for William Smith’s 1815 geological map of Britain.  If you tap one a location it will give you the recorded geology for the area.

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Tapping the arrows on right will provide you with more information about the geology at the location you’ve selected.

I found it to be a fantastically useful app when it comes to doing anything geogeeky.  I’ve used it in some of the posts I’ve written for this site.  The information is clear to understand, you can zoom a considerable distance so that you can get a good look at the geology of the area and have a accurate description of what is under your feet.  Problems with the app? Only one I can think of; you need a connection to the BGS via either 3G or WiFi, so if you’re out in the middle of no-where you might have a problem loading up the information & map.  If you suspect his is the case then I’d recommend making notes before you leave so that you can understand the geology in the area, or look it up when you get back.  So if you are geogeek and own an iPhone I recommend that you get this app, it’s free and so, so useful for geological studies.

Geological Time Part 2 – The Periods in Shropshire

As part of my geological time series I thought I’d have a look at where rocks/features of the periods can be found in Shropshire.  Shropshire is a very geologically diverse county and if you look hard enough you can find examples from all of the time periods except for the Cretaceous (though the Tertiary is a little dodgy) .  I will say that the examples I am giving are not the only ones to be found in the county.  There are many other formations, rock types and sites that can be used to represent the time periods, I’ve just pick a selected few.  So prepare for a few explanations and quite a lot of pictures.  Just as a remind ma stands for millions of years ago.

Shropshire’s Geological Timeline

Shropshire Geology Time 2

Shropshire Base Map 1

 

I’ve included a brief timeline and a small map giving the rough location of the sites I visited (blue circles) with the major towns in the county for reference.

Quaternary Period (2ma to present)

As we are still living in the Quaternary then many landforms can be seen to represent what has and is still going on in the county.  For a more pre-historical landform a good example would be the glacial relics, of which the kettle holes and peat bogs around Ellesmere would be a good place to start.

DSCF2941DSCF3579These features were formed after the ice of the Devensian Glaciation retreated around 11,000 years, leaving layers of sand and gravel (commonly called glacial till).  The kettle hole forms when a block of ice falls of the retreating glacier and melts, leaving a water-filled depression.

Neogene, Paleogene and Cretaceous Periods

Sadly these formations are missing from Shropshire.  There is rumour of a Tertiary (possibly Neogene) outcrop near Whitchurch, but I haven’t been able to confirm it and I can’t find it on a map, so for now it’ll have to remain a mystery.

Jurassic (200 to 145ma)

You’ll be lucky to find this one.  There is only one real outcrop of Jurassic age rock in the county and that is around the village of Prees, about 5 miles south of Whitchurch.  There is some Jurassic bedrock under the layers of glacial till, but Prees is the only place it comes to the surface.  You can see one exposure, just east of the A49.  To get to it you can follow a public footpath.  The rock is mudstone from 183-190ma and the environment was once a shallow, tropical sea.

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Triassic (252 to 200ma)

The Triassic and Permian are both present in Shropshire, but the exact boundary has caused a little confusion in the past.  This is largely down to the similarities in the formations and the fact that they rest one on top of the other in the same locations.  Personally I think the best place in the county to see both Triassic and Permian is around Bridgnorth, though there are some other impressive red-rock formations that form several ridges in the north of the county.  The Triassic rocks are to the east of Bridgnorth, further up the hill and form part of the Kidderminster Formation.  It is mostly made up of red sandstone and conglomerate.  The image below is that of an exposure on the A442 near Allscott, just north of Bridgnorth and shows a layer of conglomerate sandwiched between two layers of sandstone.  It is a good example of cross-bedding between the strata and is representative of a river running through a desert environment.

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Permian (299 to 252ma)

As I said in the Triassic section, Bridgnorth is the place to see Permian rocks, in fact most of the town is built on it and some of the older buildings are made from it.  The Permian sandstone is also red, shows cross-bedding as the result of wind-blown desert sand, but seems to be a little tougher.  My Triassic samples half crumbled as I was extracting and transporting them.  Again the ancient environment was a desert.

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Carboniferous (359 to 299ma)

For the Carboniferous Period I’ve chosen something a little special; the Tar Tunnel.  Unlike my other choices this is something of a minor tourist attraction and as such will require the parting of a couple of coins.  It’s found in the east end of the Ironbridge Gorge.  The rock in the surrounding area is a mixture of limestones, coals, sandstones, mudstones, and conglomerates from the late Carboniferous Period.  When the Industrial Revolution was in full swing in Ironbridge a tunnel was built to act as short cut between the mines and the River Severn.  Upon digging the tunnel the walls started to ooze natural bitumen.  This was then extracted for a number of years before the industry moved on.  Is there likely to be an oil rush in Shropshire?  Not likely but it is an interesting phenomenon and one that I don’t think can be seen anywhere else in the UK.  If like me you are a ‘geo-geek’ it’s worth seeing.

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If it was red you’d think you were in a cheap horror movie.  The image below shows an pool of tar in a side chamber.

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For a more mundane sample from further up the gorge (Jigger’s Bank) you can see an exposure of the Lydebrook Sandstone.  This layer is made up of a pebbly sandstone and includes layers of conglomerate, and was what I used in the geological timeline above.

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Devonian (416 to 359ma)

Devonian rock actually forms the bulk of Shropshire’s tallest hill; Brown Clee Hill (not to be confused with the neighbouring Clee Hill or Titterstone Clee Hill).

Below is an image of Brown Clee Hill taken from the Wenlock Edge.

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Silurian (443 to 416ma)

The Silurian is very well represented in Shropshire.  One of the best formations in the county (and possibly the country) to see rocks of Silurian age is the beautiful Wenlock Edge.

The Edge is an escarpment that runs for almost 20 miles in a north-east to south-west direction and is made up of of a knoll-reef limestone with lime-rich mudstones & shales surrounding it.

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There are numerous walks along the Edge and due to the old (and current) quarrying activities there are plenty of places to see the local geology.  The above picture showing some wonderfully defined bedding planes.  It is also a good place to go fossil hunting.  There are several places both on and under the Edge were you can collect some nice samples like the one shown below.

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Ordovician (488ma to 443ma)

Like the Silurian the Ordovician Period is well represented in Shropshire, but I’m going to go for a well known formation; the Stiperstones Hills.  The Stiperstones are made up of quartzite and like the Wrekin Quartzite is a misnomer as it is a hard, white sandstone and not a metamorphic rock (like true quartzite is).  The Stiperstones have the added advantage that besides the Ordovician rock, you also have the tors formed from millennia of ice/frost shattering.

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Cambrian (542ma to 488ma)

The Cambrian witnessed a massive diversification of animal lifeforms (often called the Cambrian Explosion) and there some good locations and rocks to be seen in Shropshire.  The Ercall quarry has some wonderful quartzite to sandstone formations, showing beach ripples, conglomerates and inclined strata (see my Ercall post for more)

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The Wrekin Quartzite gives way to the Comley Sandstone.  The type site is the sadly neglected Comley Quarry (located on the north-east slope of Caer Caradoc) where Shropshire’s first Cambrian trilobites were found.  Unfortunately the rock faces are now overgrown and difficult to see.  It can be seen in better condition a the Ercall.

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Precambrian (4600ma to 542ma)

Being such a long eon the Precambrian goes from the formation of the earth to around 542ma.  The Precambrian rocks in Shropshire are mostly from towards the younger end; around 570ma with the gneiss and schist of Primrose Hill possibly being older.  My choice for the Precambrian is the Uriconian Volcanic formation which makes up a number of hills, including the Wrekin, Caer Caradoc and the Lawley.

This photo was taken from the Long Mynd (itself a sedimentary formation from the Precambrian) showing Caer Caradoc (centre right), the Lawley (centre left, and a bit in the distance) and on the left horizon is the Wrekin.  These hills are made up mostly of rhyolite, andesite and basalt.

Below is a sample of basalt from the Wrekin.

IMG_1862Well there you have, a brief geological tour of Shropshire.  The county has seen volcanoes and beaches, deserts and tropical seas and now the efforts of an enthusiastic geo-geek.  Hope you enjoy.

 

Geological Time Part 1- Concepts of Geological Time

In some of my posts I have made mention of certain geological time periods, such as Precambrian, so I thought I’d write a few posts about geological time.  I’m only going to do a brief overview as there are many other sources in which you can get more information.  Most geological text books will cover the subject and even the wikipedia article is worth a look for a little more info.  Oh and in case you were wondering the featured imaged is of the Isle of Hoy, part of the Orkney Islands.  I took the photo several years ago and if you look carefully you can see the geological strata in there.  The cliff itself is about 300m high.

4004 BC, Catastrophism & Uniformitarianism

For most of the past 2000 years the western world has been dominated by Christian theology and this extended to concepts in science.  Genesis was taken literally by many people for the early history of the world, including those who wanted to understand it.  One of the most famous calculations about the age of the earth came from James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (lived 1581-1656).  He used the genealogies in the Old Testament to calculate that the world began the night before Sunday 23rd October 4,004 BC.  This calculation became popular (and in some circles this figure is still considered to be the ages of the earth).  Not long after Bishop Ussher scientists – most notably Isaac Newton and Comte de Buffon – started to make their own calculations based on experimentations.  One such experiment was to heat up iron balls and measure how long it takes for them to cool down.  By using such experiments De Buffon eventually calculated that the world was about 74,832 years old.  The venerable physicist Lord Kelvin even weighed in on the issue and using similar ideas thermal diffusion estimated the age of the earth at 20 millions years.  All of these estimates are considerable older than the biblical chronology would have it, but considerably younger than the 4.6 billion years of the current estimate for the earth’s age.

As part of the bible-influenced ideas, one that prevailed was that the geology & geomorphology of the world was shaped by short-lived, dramatic events, in particular Noah’s Flood.  These events were used to explain such things as why their were fossil shells in mountainous areas and why the deep, wide valleys of northern Europe contained rivers that seemed too small to carve them out.  This idea is known as catastrophism.

It didn’t take to long for early geologists working in the field to realise that ideas of catastrophism weren’t seen in the rocks they studied.  What was seen was evidence of processes going on today; rivers depositing sediment, glaciers carving out valleys, sand dues creating angular layers etc.  One of the first geologists to recognise this was James Hutton and he developed the concept of uniformitarianism.  This idea is basically that the laws of nature and the processes that go on now are the same as those that went on in the past.  Catastrophes were not needed to explain the earth’s geology, and in most cases the slow but continuous processes like uplift, erosion and deposition explain what is seen much better.

In modern geology uniformitarianism is seen as being basically true in the ‘day-to-day’ processes, but there is the recognition that dramatic events do happen.  Meteorites impact the earth, large volcanic eruptions and flood basalts do take place and such events can have a dramatic impact on the local (and very occasionally global) geology.

Geological Time Scale

As the study of geology developed several distinct time periods started to be noticed.  Along with uniformitarianism a very simple principle was recognised; the law of superposition.  This is a simple concept; sedimentary layers are deposited in a time sequence with the older layers being at the bottom and the younger layers at the top.  Uplift, folding & faulting can disrupt this sequence, but such processes are usually evident.  Fossils were used to help define such layers and a sequence began to emerge with simpler organisms at the bottom and more complex ones higher up the sequence (yes this is a bit of a generalisation I know).  The presence of the same fossils in different rocks around the world is usually an indication that the rocks are the same age.

Below is a simple diagram of the geological time scale as we currently understand it.

Geological Time 1

The earth is currently estimated to be around 4.6 billion years old.  The above diagram shows the Eons that earth’s history is divided into.  It is roughly to scale.  The Proterozoic, Archaean and Hadean Eons are collectively known as the Precambrian and represents the early earth.  Rocks from the Precambrian form the base of the continents and are often metamorphic in nature.  To give you an idea of scale the most famous extinct organisms, the dinosaurs, lived in the highlighted section of the Phanerozoic (green box).  Being more recent the rocks of the Phanerozoic Eon are more prolific, easier to define and better preserved.  Starting from about 542ma the Phanerozoic is divided as below.  The dates to the side are approximations as there is a margin of error of a couple of ma either side, with some sources quoting slightly different dates.

Geological Time 2

Again this table is roughly to scale.  Click on the image and you should get a better resolution.  The Palaeozoic (formally know as Primary) has early life and sees the evolution of arthropods & fish in the earlier periods, amphibians, reptiles & proto-mammals in the later periods.  The Mesozoic (formally Secondary) is the age of dinosaurs and tends to be the era most people think of when you mention prehistoric life.  You also had further development of mammals and later birds, along with flowering plants.  The Cainozoic is often called the age of mammals with the Neogene and Palaeogene often being called the Tertiary.  The current time period is the Quaternary and is usually defined as being the last 2 million years up to the present, and contains the so called ice ages.

Telling Time Geologically

Until the discovery of radioactivity there was no absolute way of determining how old a rock was, hence the variations in trying to determine the age of the earth.  Early geologists could only date rocks relative to each other; so called relative dating.

Relative Dating: this uses the law of superposition and uniformitarianism to date the rocks relative to each other.  Unless the layers have been disturbed through processes such as faulting, folding or intrusions, the older layers of rock will be at the bottom and the younger ones at the top.  You can then compare the fossils in each layer to see for differences.  Extinction and evolution will lead to some creatures disappearing and being replaced by other organisms in a sequence up through the rock layers.  This can then be compared to rocks from elsewhere and if you find the same fossils then the rocks will be of a similar age.  This then allows you to compare the fossils & layers in the new site for differences there and so.  This allows you to compare & contrast layers to each other so that you know how old a rock layer is in relation to others around it.  You can then compare current rates of erosion and deposition to then make estimates of how long it took to for the geographic process (say a river depositing a layer of silt) to form a layer of rock that think.  Thus giving you an idea of how old the rock may be.  Even in areas where the rock has been deformed you can study how the layers have changed and get a good idea of how old they are in relation to each other.

Absolute Dating: after the discovery of radioactivity and radioactive decay it was realised that you could get a more accurate date for rocks.  The most common method used is radiometric dating.  I’m only going to do a brief intro to this as to give it a full description would take pages.  The most well known type of radiometric dating is radiocarbon dating.  This uses the radioactive carbon-14 to determine a date.  It can only be used for objects containing carbon (e.g. living material) and only for objects up to about 70,000 years old.  Other radioactive isotopes can be used to for older materials (such as Uranium-Lead, Potassium-Argon and Rubidium-Strontium).  Regardless of the isotopes used the method is the same.  As the atoms decay they lose electrons, protons & neutrons and the original atom (parent atom) becomes a different atom (daughter atom).  This radioactive decay is a constant (there are a few special circumstances such a nuclear fusion that resets this clock).  By determining how long it takes for half of the parent atoms to decay to the daughter atoms you can then measure the ratio between the parent & daughter atoms in a sample of rock.  This will then give you a good estimation for the age of the rock.  This can only be done to igneous rocks as when the molten rock solidifies the crystals that contain the radioactive material are fixed in the rock until you take the sample.  With sedimentary rocks the original material has been eroded away, the crystals are no longer complete and so you cannot get a good ratio reading.  Even if you did get an accurate reading you’d be getting a reading for the crystal not the sedimentary rock it sits in.  For metamorphic rock the crystals have been deformed or broken up by heat & pressure again preventing you from getting an accurate reading.s7001758.jpg

(Metamorphic Lewisian Gneiss, with granite mixed in from north-west Scotland)

There are other absolute dating methods that can be used; dendrochronology, fission-tracking, sediment layers (e.g. in mud), annual snow fall/melt layers in ice to name but a few.  By combining absolute and relative dating methods geologist can determine the age of the earth and the various rock layers that make up its surface.

If you wish to know more about geological dating methods I’d suggest you find a decent geological text book, that’ll describe these methods in greater detail.  For the purposes of my blog writing this brief introduction should suffice.  For part 2 I have been working on something a little special and it has taken a bit of time to gather the necessary materials.

References: Fundamentals of the Physical Environment (3rd Edition) by P. Smithson, K. Addison & K. Atkinson (2002).  Geology (2nd Edition)by S. Chernicoff (1999).  Geology of Shropshire (2nd Edition) by P. Toghill (2006).  The Geology of Britain – An Introduction by P. Toghill (2006).  Fossil Revolution – the finds that changed our view of the past by D. Palmer (2003).