Carbonate Petrography

Carbonate petrography is the study of limestones, dolomites and associated deposits under optical or electron microscopes greatly enhances field studies or core observations and can provide a frame of reference for geochemical studies.

25 strangest Geologic Formations on Earth

The strangest formations on Earth.

What causes Earthquake?

Of these various reasons, faulting related to plate movements is by far the most significant. In other words, most earthquakes are due to slip on faults.

The Geologic Column

As stated earlier, no one locality on Earth provides a complete record of our planet’s history, because stratigraphic columns can contain unconformities. But by correlating rocks from locality to locality at millions of places around the world, geologists have pieced together a composite stratigraphic column, called the geologic column, that represents the entirety of Earth history.

Folds and Foliations

Geometry of Folds Imagine a carpet lying flat on the floor. Push on one end of the carpet, and it will wrinkle or contort into a series of wavelike curves. Stresses developed during mountain building can similarly warp or bend bedding and foliation (or other planar features) in rock. The result a curve in the shape of a rock layer is called a fold.

Showing posts with label mass flow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mass flow. Show all posts

How Can We Protect Against Mass Movement Disasters?

Protecting against mass movement disaster

Clearly, landslides, mud-flows, and slumps are natural hazards we cannot ignore. Too many of us live in regions where mass wasting has the potential to kill people and destroy property. In many cases, the best solution is avoidance: don’t build, live, or work in an area where mass movement can take place. But avoidance is possible only if we know where the hazards are. 

Identifying Regions at Risk 

To pinpoint dangerous regions, geologists look for landforms known to result from mass movements, for where these movements have happened in the past, they might happen again in the future. Features such as slump head scarps, swaths of forest in which trees have been tilted, piles of loose debris at the base of hills, and hummocky land surfaces all indicate recent mass wasting.

 Surface features warn that a large slump is beginning to develop. Cracks that appear at the head scarp may drain water and kill trees. Power-line poles tilt and the lines become tight. Fences, roads, and houses on the slump begin to crack.
In some cases, geologists may also be able to detect regions that are beginning to move (figure above). For example, roads, buildings, and pipes begin to crack over unstable ground. Power lines may be too tight or too loose because the poles to which they are attached move together or apart. Visible cracks form on the ground at the potential head of a slump, and the ground may bulge up at the toe of the slump. In some cases, subsurface cracks may drain the water from an area and kill off vegetation, whereas in other areas land may sink and form a swamp. Slow movements cause trees to develop pronounced curves at their base. More recently, new extremely precise surveying technologies have permitted geologists to detect the beginnings of mass movements that may not yet have visibly affected the land surface.

A landslide hazard map of the Seattle area.
Even if there is no evidence of recent movement, a danger may still exist: just because a steep slope hasn't collapsed in the recent past doesn't mean it won’t in the future. In recent years, geologists have begun to identify such potential hazards by using computer programs that evaluate factors that trigger mass wasting. These factors include the following: slope steepness; strength of substrate; degree of water saturation; orientation of bedding, joints, or foliation relative to the slope; nature of vegetation cover; potential for heavy rains; potential for undercutting to occur; and likelihood of earthquakes. From such hazard-assessment studies, geologists compile landslide potential maps, which rank regions according to the likelihood that a mass movement will occur (figure above). In any case, common sense suggests that you should avoid building on or below particularly dangerous slide-prone slopes. 

Preventing Mass Movements 

 A variety of remedial steps can stabilize unstable ground
In areas where a hazard exists, people can take certain steps to remedy the problem and stabilize the slope (figure above a–h). 
  • Revegetation: Stability in deforested areas will be greatly enhanced if land owners replant the region with vegetation that sends down deep roots and binds regolith together. 
  • Regrading: An over-steepened slope can be regraded or terraced so that it does not exceed the angle of repose. 
  • Reducing subsurface water: Because water weakens material beneath a slope and adds weight to the slope, an unstable situation may be remedied either by improving drainage so that water does not enter the subsurface in the first place, or by removing water from the ground. 
  • Preventing undercutting: In places where a river undercuts a cliff face, engineers can divert the river. Similarly, along coastal regions they may build an offshore breakwater or pile riprap (loose boulders or concrete) along the beach to absorb wave energy before it strikes the cliff face.
  • Constructing safety structures: In some cases, the best way to prevent mass wasting is to build a structure that stabilizes a potentially unstable slope or protects a region downslope from debris if a mass movement does occur. For example, civil engineers can build retaining walls or bolt loose slabs of rock to more coherent masses in the substrate in order to stabilize highway embankments. The danger from rockfalls can be decreased by covering a road cut with chain link fencing or by spraying road cuts with concrete. Highways at the base of an avalanche-prone slope can be covered by an avalanche shed, whose roof keeps debris off the road. 
  • Controlled blasting of unstable slopes: When it is clear that unstable ground or snow threatens a particular region, the best solution may be to blast the unstable ground or snow loose at a time when its movement can do no harm.
Figures credited to Stephen Marshak.

    Why Do Mass Movements Occur?

    Mass Movements occurring

    We've seen that mass movements travel at a range of different velocities, from slow (creep) to faster (slumps, mud flows and debris flows, and rock slides and debris slides) to fastest (snow avalanches, and rock and debris falls. The velocity depends on the steepness of the slope and the water or air content of the mass. For these movements to take place, the stage must be set by the following phenomena: fracturing and weathering, which weaken materials at Earth’s surface so that they cannot hold up against the pull of gravity; and the development of relief, which provides slopes down which masses move. 

    Weakening the Substrate  by Fragmentation and Weathering 

    jointing broke up this thick sandstone bed along a cliff in Utah. Blocks of sandstone break free along joints and tumble downslope.
    If the Earth’s surface were covered by intact (unbroken) rock, mass movements would be of little concern, for intact rock has great strength and could form stalwart mountain faces that would rarely tumble. But the rock of the Earth’s upper crust has been fractured by jointing and faulting (figure above), and in many locations the surface has a cover of regolith resulting from the weathering of rock. Regolith and fractured rock are much weaker than intact rock and can indeed collapse in response to gravitational pull. Thus jointing, faulting, and weathering ultimately make mass movements possible. 
    Why are regolith and fractured rocks weaker than intact bedrock? The answer comes from looking at the strength of the attachments holding materials together. A mass of intact bedrock is relatively strong because the chemical bonds within its interlocking grains, or within the cements between grains, can’t be broken easily. A mass of loose rocks or of regolith, in contrast, is relatively weak because the grains are held together only by friction, electrostatic attraction, and/or surface tension of water. All of these forces combined are weaker than chemical bonds holding together the atoms in the minerals of intact rock. To picture this contrast, think about how much easier it is to bust up a sand castle (whose strength comes primarily from the surface tension of water films on the sand grains) than it is to bust up a granite sculpture of a castle.

    Slope Stability 

    Mass movements do not take place on all slopes, and even on slopes where such movements are possible, they occur only occasionally. Geologists distinguish between stable slopes, on which sliding is unlikely, and unstable slopes, on which sliding will likely happen. When material starts moving on an unstable slope, we say that slope failure has occurred. Whether a slope fails or not depends on the balance between two forces the downslope force, caused by gravity, and the resistance force, which inhibits sliding. If the downslope force exceeds the resistance force, the slope fails and mass movement results.

    Forces that trigger downslope movement.
    Let’s examine this phenomenon more closely by imagining a block sitting on a slope. We can represent the gravitational attraction between this block and the Earth by an arrow (a vector) that points straight down, toward the Earth’s centre of gravity. This arrow can be separated into two components the downslope force parallel to the slope and the normal force perpendicular to the slope. We can symbolize the resistance force by an arrow pointing uphill. If the down slope force is larger than the resistance force, then the block moves; otherwise, it stays in place (figure above a, b). Note that for a given mass, downslope forces are greater on steeper slopes. 

    The angle of repose is the steepest slope that a pile of unconsolidated sediment can have and remain stable. The angle depends on the shape and size of grains.
    What produces a resistance force? As we saw above, chemical bonds in mineral crystals or cement hold intact rock in place, friction holds an unattached block in place, electrical charges and friction hold dry regolith in place, and surface tension holds wet regolith in place. Because of resistance force, granular debris tends to pile up to produce the steepest slope it can without collapsing. The angle of this slope is called the angle of repose, and for most dry, unconsolidated materials (such as dry sand) it typically has a value of between 30° and 37°. The angle depends partly on the shape and size of grains, which determine the amount of friction across grain boundaries. For example, steeper angles of repose (up to 45°) tend to form on slopes composed of large, irregularly shaped grains (figure above). 

    Different kinds of weak surfaces can become failure surfaces.
    In many locations, the resistance force is less than might be expected because a weak surface exists at some depth below ground level. If down slope movement begins on the weak surface, we can say that the weak surface has become a failure surface. Geologists recognize several different kinds of weak surfaces that are likely to become failure surfaces (figure above a–c). These include wet clay layers; wet, unconsolidated sand layers; joints; weak bedding planes (shale beds and evaporite beds are particularly weak); and metamorphic foliation planes. Weak surfaces that dip parallel to the land surface slope are particularly likely to fail. An example of such failure occurred in Madison Canyon, south western Montana, on August 17, 1959. 
    That day, vibrations from a strong earthquake jarred the region. Metamorphic rock with a strong foliation that could serve as weak surfaces formed the bedrock of the canyon’s southern wall. When the ground vibrated, rock detached along a foliation plane and tumbled down slope. Unfortunately, 28 campers lay sleeping on the valley floor. They were probably awakened by the hurricane-like winds blasting in front of the moving mass, but seconds later were buried under 45 m of rubble. 

    Fingers on the Trigger:  What Causes Slope Failure? 

    What triggers an individual mass-wasting event? In other words, what causes the balance of forces to change so that the downslope force exceeds the resistance force, and a slope suddenly fails? Here, we look at various phenomena natural and human-made that trigger slope failure.

    Shocks, vibrations, and liquefaction

    Earthquake tremors, storms, the passing of large trucks, or blasting in construction sites may cause a mass that was on the verge of moving actually to start moving. For example, an earthquake-triggered slide dumped debris into Lituya Bay, in south-eastern Alaska, in 1958. The debris displaced the water in the bay, creating a 300-m-high (1,200  ft) splash that washed forests off the slopes bordering the bay and carried fishing boats anchored in the bay many kilometres out to sea. The vibrations of an earthquake break bonds that hold a mass in place and/or cause the mass and the slope to separate slightly, thereby decreasing friction. As a consequence, the resistance force decreases, and the downslope force sets the mass in motion. Shaking can also cause liquefaction of wet sediment by either increasing water pressure in spaces between grains so that the grains are pushed apart, or by breaking the cohesion between the grains.

    Changing slope loads, steepness, and support

    As we have seen, the stability of a slope at a given time depends on the balance between the downslope force and the resistance force. Factors that change one or the other of these forces can lead to failure. Examples include changes in slope loads, failure-surface strength, slope steepness, and the support  provided by material at the base of the slope.

    Stages leading to the 1925 Gros Ventre slide in Wyoming.
    Slope loads change when the weight of the material above a potential failure plane changes. If the load increases, due to construction of buildings on top of a slope or due to saturation of regolith with water due to heavy rains, the downslope force increases and may exceed the resistance force. Seepage of water into the ground may also weaken underground failure surfaces, further decreasing resistance force. An example of such failure triggered the largest observed landslide in U.S. history, the Gros Ventre Slide, which took place in 1925 on the flank of Sheep Mountain, near Jackson Hole, Wyoming (figure above). Almost 40 million cubic meters of rock, as well as the overlying soil and forest, detached from the side of the mountain and slid 600 m downslope, filling a valley and forming a 75-m-high natural dam across the Gros Ventre River. 
    Removing support at the base of a slope due to river or wave erosion or to construction efforts plays a major role in triggering many slope failures. In effect, the material at the base of a slope acts like a dam holding back the material farther up the slope. 

    Undercutting and collapse of a sea cliff.
    In some cases, erosion by a river or by waves eats into the base of a cliff and produces an overhang. When such undercutting has occurred, rock making up the overhang eventually breaks away from the slope and falls (figure above a, b).

    Changing the slope strength

    The stability of a slope depends on the strength of the material constituting it. If the material weakens with time, the slope becomes weaker and eventually collapses. Three factors influence the strength of slopes: 
    1. Weathering: With time, chemical weathering produces weaker minerals, and physical weathering breaks rocks apart. Thus, a formerly intact rock composed of strong minerals is transformed into a weaker rock or into regolith. 
    2. Vegetation cover: In the case of slopes underlain by regolith, vegetation tends to strengthen the slope because the roots hold otherwise unconsolidated grains together. Also, plants absorb water from the ground, thus keeping it from turning into slippery mud. The removal of vegetation therefore has the net result of making slopes more susceptible to downslope mass movement. Deforestation in tropical rainforests, similarly, leads to catastrophic mass wasting of the forest’s substrate. 
    3. Water content: Water affects materials comprising slopes in many ways. Surface tension, due to the film of water on grain surfaces, may help hold regolith together. But if the water content increases, water pressure may push grains apart so that regolith liquefies and can begin to flow. Water infiltration may make weak surfaces underground more slippery, or may push surfaces apart and decrease friction. Some kinds of clays absorb water and expand, causing the ground surface to rise and, as a consequence, break up.
    Figures credited to Stephen Marshak.

      Terrible Landslide in the Mountains of Russia


      Mass Flow

      What is Mass flow?


      Mixtures of detritus and fluid that move under gravity are known collectively as mass flows, gravity flows or density currents. A number of different mechanisms are involved and all require a slope to provide the potential energy to drive the flow. This slope may be the surface over which the flow occurs, but a gravity flow will also move on a horizontal surface if it thins downflow, in which case the potential energy is provided by the difference in height between the tops of the upstream and the downstream parts of the flow.

      Debris flows


      Debris flows are dense, viscous mixtures of sediment and water in which the volume and mass of sediment exceeds that of water. A dense, viscous mixture of this sort will typically have a low Reynolds number so the flow is likely to be laminar. In the absence of turbulence no dynamic sorting of material into different sizes occurs during flow and the resulting deposit is very poorly sorted. Some sorting may develop by slow settling and locally there may be reverse grading produced by shear at the bed boundary. Material of any size from clay to large boulders may be present. Debris flows occur on land, principally in arid environments where water supply is sparse (such as some alluvial fans) and in submarine environments where they transport material down continental slopes and locally on some coarse-grained delta slopes. Deposition occurs when internal friction becomes too great and the flow ‘freezes’. There may be little change in the thickness of the deposit in a proximal to distal direction and the clast size distribution may be the same throughout the deposit. The deposits of debris flows on land are typically matrix-supported conglomerates although clast-supported deposits also occur if the relative proportion of large clasts is high in the sediment mixture. They are poorly sorted and show a chaotic fabric, i.e. there is usually no preferred orientation to the clasts, except within zones of shearing that may form at the base of the flow. When a debris flow travels through water it may partly mix with it and the top part of the flow may become dilute. The tops of subaqueous debris flows are therefore characterised by a gradation up into better sorted, graded sediment, which may have the characteristics of a turbidite.

      Turbidity currents



      Turbidity currents are gravity-driven turbid mixtures of sediment temporarily suspended in water. They are less dense mixtures than debris flows and with a relatively high Reynolds number are usually turbulent flows. The name is derived from their characteristics of being opaque mixtures of sediment and water (turbid) and not the turbulent flow. They flow down slopes or over a horizontal surface provided that the thickness of the flow is greater upflow than it is downflow. The deposit of a turbidity current is a turbidite. The sediment mixture may contain gravel, sand and mud in concentrations as little as a few parts per thousand or up to 10% by weight: at the high concentrations the flows may not be turbulent and are not always referred to as turbidity currents. The volumes of material involved in a single flow event can be anything up to tens of cubic kilometres, which is spread out by the flow and deposited as a layer a few millimetres to tens of metres thick. Turbidity currents, and hence turbidites, can occur in water anywhere that there is a supply of sediment and a slope. They are common in deep lakes, and may occur on continental shelves, but are most abundant in deep marine environments, where turbidites are the dominant clastic deposit. The association with deep marine environments may lead to the assumption that all turbidites are deep marine deposits, but they are not an indicator of depth as turbidity currents are a process that can occur in shallow water as well. Sediment that is initially in suspension in the turbidity current starts to come into contact with the underlying surface where it may come to a halt or move by rolling and suspension. In doing so it comes out of suspension and the density of the flow is reduced. Flow in a turbidity current is maintained by the density contrast between the sediment-water mix and the water, and if this contrast is reduced, the flow slows down. At the head of the flow turbulent mixing of the current with the water dilutes the turbidity current and also reduces the density contrast. As more sediment is deposited from the decelerating flow a deposit accumulates and the flow eventually comes to a halt when the flow has spread out as a thin, even sheet.

      Low- and medium-density turbidity currents

      The first material to be deposited from a turbidity current will be the coarsest as this will fall out of suspension first. Therefore a turbidite is characteristically normally graded. Other sedimentary structures within the graded bed reflect the changing processes that occur during the flow and these vary according to the density of the initial mixture. Low- to medium-density turbidity currents will ideally form a succession known as a Bouma sequence, named after the geologist who first described them. Five divisions are recognised within the Bouma sequence, referred to as ‘a’ to ‘e’ divisions and annotated Ta, Tb and so on. 
      • Ta: This lowest part consists of poorly sorted, structureless sand: on the scoured base deposition occurs rapidly from suspension with reduced turbulence inhibiting the formation of bedforms. 
      • Tb: Laminated sand characterises this layer, the grain size is normally finer than in ‘a’ and the material is better sorted: the parallel laminae are generated by the separation of grains in upper flow regime transport.
      • Tc: Cross-laminated medium to fine sand, sometimes with climbing ripple lamination, form the middle division of the Bouma sequence: these characteristics indicate moderate flow velocities within the ripple bedform stability field and high sedimentation rates. Convolute lamination can also occur in this division. 
      • Td: Fine sand and silt in this layer are the products of waning flow in the turbidity current: horizontal laminae may occur but the lamination is commonly less well defined than in the ‘b’ layer. 
      • Te: The top part of the turbidite consists of finegrained sediment of silt and clay grade: it is deposited from suspension after the turbidity current has come to rest and is therefore a hemipelagic deposit. 
      Turbidity currents are waning flows, that is, they decrease velocity through time as they deposit material, but this means that they also decrease velocity with distance from the source. There is therefore a decrease in the grain size deposited with distance. The lower parts of the Bouma sequence are only present in the more proximal parts of the flow. With distance the lower divisions are progressively lost as the flow carries only finer sediment and only the ‘c’ to ‘e’ or perhaps just ‘d’ and ‘e’ parts of the Bouma sequence are deposited. In the more proximal regions the flow turbulence may be strong enough to cause scouring and completely remove the upper parts of a previously deposited bed. The ‘d’ and ‘e’ divisions may therefore be absent due to this erosion and the eroded sediment may be incorporated into the overlying deposit as mud clasts. The complete Ta to Te sequence is therefore only likely to occur in certain parts of the deposit, and even there intermediate divisions may be absent due, for example, to rapid deposition preventing ripple formation in Tc. Complete Ta-e Bouma sequences are in fact rather rare.

      High-density turbidity currents

      Under conditions where there is a higher density of material in the mixture the processes in the flow and hence of the characteristics of the deposit are different from those described above. High-density turbidity currents have a bulk density of at least 1.1 g/cm 3. The turbidites deposited by these flows have a thicker coarse unit at their base, which can be divided into three divisions. Divisions S1 and S2 are traction deposits of coarse material, with the upper part, S2, representing the ‘freezing’ of the traction flow. Overlying this is a unit, S3, that is characterised by fluid-escape structures indicating rapid deposition of sediment. The upper part of the succession is more similar to the Bouma Sequence, with Tt equivalent to Tb and Tc and overlain by Td and Te: this upper part therefore reflects deposition from a lower density flow once most of the sediment had already been deposited in the ‘S’ division. The characteristics of high-density turbidites were described by Lowe, after whom the succession is sometimes named.

      Grain flows


      Avalanches are mechanisms of mass transport down a steep slope, which are also known as grain flows. Particles in a grain flow are kept apart in the fluid medium by repeated grain to grain collisions and grain flows rapidly ‘freeze’ as soon as the kinetic energy of the particles falls below a critical value. This mechanism is most effective in well-sorted material falling under gravity down a steep slope such as the slip face of an aeolian dune. When the particles in the flow are in temporary suspension there is a tendency for the finer grains to fall between the coarser ones, a process known as kinetic sieving, which results in a slight reverse grading in the layer once it is deposited. Although most common on a small scale in sands, grain flows may also occur in coarser, gravelly material in a steep subaqueous setting such as the foreset of a Gilbert-type delta.