Jan 132017
 

We’ve decided to revive one of our most popular print publications — RockTalk — as a blog so that we can continue to bring you interesting, informative, and timely postings related to our mission. This year, 2017, will see 110 years since the founding of the CGS.

The first RockTalk appeared in 1998 and was followed by forty seasonal issues until the most recent one in 2011. We constantly get requests for back issues and to continue publishing, so in accordance with the times, we decided to make the shift to digital media. We hope you will join us by subscribing (to receive an email when we make a new posting, please enter your email in the subscription box in the right-hand column).

Content-wise, we’ll be exploring all of the many aspects of our State Survey mission to:

  • Help reduce the impact of geologic hazards on the citizens of Colorado
  • Promote responsible economic development of mineral and energy resources
  • Provide geologic insight into water resources
  • Provide geologic advice and information to a variety of constituencies

And, along the way, we’ll also post pertinent information on general geology, geoscience research and education, science and engineering policy, and other items that cross our screens. If you have any questions or suggestions, please get in touch!

Apr 122017
 

We just uploaded the most recent of our STATEMAP mapping products to our online store: the Geologic Map of the Longmont Quadrangle, Boulder and Weld Counties, Colorado. The STATEMAP series in general provides a detailed description of the geology, mineral and ground-water resource potential, and the geologic hazards of an area. This particular 7.5-minute, 1:24,000 quadrangle is located immediately east of the Front Range uplift of Colorado and includes most of the town of Longmont within its borders. The geologic map plates were created via traditional field mapping, structural measurements, photographs, and field notes acquired by the investigators. Richard F. Madole, Scientist Emeritus at the USGS was the lead geologist for the project. This free release from the CGS includes two plates (with a geologic map, cross-section with correlation, oblique 3D view, legend, and description) along with the corresponding GIS data package that allows for digital viewing, all in a single zip file.

From the map history:

The Longmont quadrangle is in the northern part of the Colorado Piedmont, which is a section of the Great Plains that is bounded on the west by the Front Range and on the east by the High Plains section of the Great Plains. It is distinguished primarily by the fact that it has been stripped of the Miocene fluvial rocks (Arikaree and Ogallala Formations) that cover most of the High Plains. Headward erosion of the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers and their tributaries caused most of the stripping. Like much of the Colorado Piedmont, the Longmont quadrangle is an area of low hills and plains underlain by Upper Cretaceous (100–66 Ma) sedimentary rocks. Most of these rocks consist of fine-grained sediment (clay, silt, and fine sand) that accumulated in a broad seaway (Western Interior Seaway). This seaway connected the areas of the present-day Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and extended from Minnesota and western Iowa on the east to central Utah on the west.

Even before urbanization, Upper Cretaceous bedrock was exposed in only a few places in the Longmont quadrangle because loess of late Pleistocene age (126 ka to 11.7 ka) blankets about 85 percent of the area. Deposition of most loess is attributed to northwesterly winds, which during the last glaciation (between about 40 ka and 12 ka) were stronger than they are today, blowing across extensive areas upwind from the Longmont quadrangle that are underlain by siltstone, mudstone, and shale. Thus, eolian sediment covers almost all bedrock and surficial deposits (loose, uncemented sediment as opposed to rock) that were at the surface prior to the end of the last glaciation. The floors of the major streams in the Longmont quadrangle also bear the imprint of Pleistocene glaciations. The gravel deposits that are mined in several places along St. Vrain and Boulder Creeks consist mostly of granitic and gneissic rocks that were derived from the Front Range and transported to the piedmont during glaciation. The headwaters of the St. Vrain, Lefthand, and Boulder Creeks were glaciated repeatedly during Pleistocene time. The principal glaciers in these areas were 10–12 miles (16-20 km) long and as much as 600–1150 ft (2-350 m) thick.

This mapping project was funded jointly by the U.S. Geological Survey through the STATEMAP component of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, which is authorized by the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1997, and also by the CGS using the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Severance Tax Operational Funds. The CGS matching funds come from the severance paid on the production of natural gas, oil, coal, and metals. Geologic maps produced through the STATEMAP program are intended as multi-purpose maps useful for land-use planning, geotechnical engineering, geologic-hazard assessment, mineral-resource development, and ground-water exploration.

Citation: Madole, Richard F. Geologic Map of the Longmont Quadrangle, Boulder and Weld Counties, Colorado. Geology. Open File Reports. Golden, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, April 2017.
Mar 142017
 

We just found out about this year’s Cumbres & Toltec Geology Train adventure in southwest Colorado/northwest New Mexico — 18 June 2017. It’s a special opportunity to enjoy some of that Rio Grande Rift, Brazos Uplift, Tusas Mountains, San Luis Basin, and San Juan Sag scenery.

Our very own Peter Barkmann, geologist extraordinaire and veteran Geology Train guide, will be on board for an informative and energized day in the high country.

On June 18th, a special train will depart to traverse spectacular geology along the 64 miles of Cumbres & Toltec track. But simply experiencing the incredible overviews of the Rio Grande Rift, the eruptive evidence of the San Juan Volcanic field, the Precambrian core of the Tusas Mountains, recent glacial deposits, and snapshots of the Jurassic, will not be enough. This special train will stop at many outcrops and rail cuts along the right of way, to mingle, marvel and collect photographs, samples and experiences only accessible on the train route.

ALL ABOARD!

Feb 282017
 

We have a free 8.5- x 11-inch (pdf) geologic map of Colorado containing Geo-Whizology of Colorado on the reverse side.

Free 8.5- x 11-inch  map of Colorado geology along with Geo-Whizology

Free 8.5- x 11-inch map of Colorado geology (front) along with Geo-Whizology (back)

Of course, we’re a bit biased, but we think Colorado has magnificent geology and it is beautifully displayed for all to see. The state holds many of the biggest, the best, the first, and the most diverse:

For instance, did you know: Continue reading »

Feb 282017
 

No Geologist worth anything is permanently bound to a desk or laboratory, but the charming notion that true science can only be based on unbiased observation of nature in the raw is mythology. Creative work, in geology and anywhere else, is interaction and synthesis: half-baked ideas from a bar room, rocks in the field, chains of thought from lonely walks, numbers squeezed from rocks in a laboratory, numbers from a calculator riveted to a desk, fancy equipment usually malfunctioning on expensive ships, cheap equipment in the human cranium, arguments before a road cut.

— Stephen Gould

Any other ideas as to where/how creative geologic ideas arrive? Any personal mythologies out there?

Feb 242017
 

One of the many fascinating videos from our geo-friends up the road at University of Colorado-Boulder.

The Interactive Geology Project was formed in 2002 by professor Paul Weimer and colleagues with the goal of producing short 3D animations about the geologic evolution of key US national parks. The first major project focused on the geology of the Colorado National Monument and is still on display in the park’s visitor center. Over time our focus shifted from national parks to animating Colorado’s geologic history, with a key goal of developing a series of 5-10 minute vignettes covering each geologic time period.

The current group of animators joined the project in the summer of 2011. In 2013 we began a major collaboration with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to explore new ways of using 3D technology in earth science education. We work with top subject-area experts to ensure our animations are as scientifically accurate and up-to-date as possible.

Our projects are on display in museums, parks, and other venues across Colorado, the Western US, and Canada. All of our work is also available to the general public free of charge on our website and our Vimeo page.

Feb 192017
 

Diamonds are formed from pure carbon, one of the most abundant elements on planet Earth. Diamonds, even from ancient times, have been sought for their extraordinary hardness (they are the hardest substance known) and their brilliance, especially in the colorless transparent gemstone variety. Ironically the other form of pure carbon is graphite, which is very soft with a soapy feel and a dull gray color. Graphite is commonly the “lead” in a pencil.

A diamond's crystal structure: tetrahedrally bonded carbon atoms crystallized into the diamond lattice, a variation of the face-centered cubic structure.

A diamond's crystal structure: tetrahedrally bonded carbon atoms crystallized into the diamond lattice, a variation of the face-centered cubic structure.

The Mohs Hardness Scale of minerals starts at 1 (talc) and ranges to 10 (diamond). That does not mean that diamonds are ten times harder than talc; mineral number 9 on the Mohs scale is corundum, a class of minerals which includes rubies and sapphires. Diamonds can be from ten to hundreds times harder than corundum. Diamonds themselves vary in hardness; for example, stones from Australia are harder than those found in South Africa.

The four main optical characteristics of diamonds are transparency, luster, dispersion of light, and color. In its pure carbon form, diamond is completely clear and transparent. As in all natural substances, perfection is nearly impossible to find. Inclusions of other minerals and elements cause varying degrees of opacity. The surface of a diamond can be clouded by natural processes, such as the constant tumbling and scraping in the bed of a river.

Luster is the general appearance of a crystal surface in reflected light. Luster of a smooth crystal face of diamond is strong and brilliant. It is intermediate between glass and metal and has its own special term — adamantine.

Relative size of octahedral diamond crystals from 1 to 500 carats. Credit: Modified from Bauer, 1968.

Relative size of octahedral diamond crystals from 1 to 500 carats. Credit: Modified from Bauer, 1968.

The process of white light breaking up into its constituent colors is called dispersion. Diamonds have strong dispersion, which along with their strong luster, causes the beautiful play of colors so often referred to as the “fire” of a diamond.

Gemstone varieties of diamond and imperfections. Yellow or yellowish-brown and even brilliant yellow diamonds have been found. Very rarely, diamonds are blue, black, pale green, pink, violet, and even reddish.

The most famous blue diamond, the Hope Diamond, is intertwined with Colorado’s mining history. Thomas Walsh, discoverer of the rich Camp Bird Mine near Ouray, purchased the Hope Diamond for his wife in the early 1900s; it was later given to his daughter, Evelyn Walsh McLean who wore it almost continuously until the 1940s. The 45.5-carat Hope Diamond now resides at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Diamonds, in their perfect cubic crystal form, occur as isolated octahedral (eight-sided) crystals. Many variations on the cubic form are found in are usually clear and colorless, often containing minor inclusions nature, including twelve-sided crystals and a flattened triangular shape known as a macle. Gemologists recognize three main varieties of diamonds: ordinary, bort, and carbonado. Ordinary diamonds occur as crystals often with rounded faces, from colorless and free from flaws (“the first water” [1]) to stones of variable color and full of flaws. Bort diamonds occur in rounded forms without a good crystal structure. They are generally of inferior quality as a gemstone. Carbonados are black opaque diamonds usually from the Bahia Province of Brazil. They are crystalline but do not possess the mineral cleavage found in ordinary diamonds.

[1] An expression which refers to the highest quality diamonds and has come to mean the highest quality of just about anything. The comparison of diamonds with water dates back to at least the early 17th century, and Shakespeare alludes to it in Pericles, 1607:

Heavenly jewels which Pericles hath lost, Begin to part their fringes of bright gold.
The diamonds of a most praisèd water Doth appear, to make the world twice rich.

Diamonds in the rough, note the regular octahedral forms and trigons (of positive and negative relief) formed by natural chemical etching.

Diamonds in the rough, note the regular octahedral forms and trigons (of positive and negative relief) formed by natural chemical etching.

Feb 172017
 
IS-79 Colorado Mineral and Energy Industry Activities 2015-16 (cover)

The current annual Colorado Mineral and Energy Industry Activities report 2015-16 is now available. Following up on the 2014 report, this report, based on 2015 production data, sketches a comprehensive overview of Colorado’s mineral resource production. Of note is the fact that total value of mineral and energy fuels production in Colorado for 2015 is estimated to be $13.43 billion, a 29% decline from the $18.8 billion production value in 2014. The decline was caused primarily by a precipitous decrease in oil and gas market prices which provide 70% of Colorado mineral resource revenue. Oil and gas production actually registered at all-time highs of 127.6 Mbbl and 1,709 Bcf, respectively.

Nonfuel mineral production — including metals, industrial minerals, and construction materials — posted a modest 3.9% increase in revenue. Increased production of crushed stone, cement, and sand and gravel aggregate accounted for the increase. With a 2015 production of 21,790 metric tons of molybdenum from two mines, Colorado is the largest molybdenum producer in the U.S. Although just one mine in the state publicly reported gold production in 2015, Colorado remains the third largest producer of the metal in the U.S. as it was in 2014.


Citation: Cappa, James A., Michael K. O’Keefe, James R. Guilinger, and Karen A. Berry. “IS-79 Colorado Mineral and Energy Industry Activities 2015-16.” Mineral and Energy Industry. Information Series. Golden, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, 2016.
Feb 172017
 

Dr. Cílek, the Director of the Czech Republic’s Academy of Sciences Institute of Geology delivers a fascinating talk about the Bohemian Karst region of the Czech Republic, around Beroun, that weaves the human historical, mystical, and mythological elements with the underlying geology and speleology.

(00:36:32, stereo audio, 70.1 mb)

Bohemian karst (Český kras) landscape formed in a limestone of Silurian and mainly Devonian age. The area hosts several international stratotype and parastratotype sections, including the main Silurian/Devonian Global Boundary Stratotype Section at Suchomasty. Photo credit: Milos Sejn.

Bohemian karst (Český kras) landscape formed in a limestone of Silurian and mainly Devonian age. The area hosts several international stratotype and parastratotype sections, including the main Silurian/Devonian Global Boundary Stratotype Section at Suchomasty. Photo credit: Milos Sejn.

Feb 142017
 

Uranium is a widespread and ubiquitous element. It has a crustal abundance of 2.8 parts per million, slightly more than tin. Primary deposits of uranium tend to concentrate in granitic or alkalic volcanic rocks, hydrothermal veins, marine black shales, and early Precambrian age placer deposits. Secondary (or epigenetic) deposits of uranium are formed later than the surrounding rocks that host the mineral deposit. Uranium is soluble in oxidizing aqueous solutions, especially the U+6 valence state, and can be redistributed from primary source rocks into porous sedimentary rocks and structures by groundwater and form secondary (epigenetic) uranium mineral deposits.

Epigenetic deposits of uranium in sedimentary rocks form the bulk of uranium deposits in Colorado. These include the many mines of the Uravan, Cochetopa, Maybe, and Rifle districts, and other scattered places including the Front Range and Denver Basin. Primary uranium deposits in Colorado occur in hydrothermal veins, especially in the Front Range. Continue reading »

Feb 062017
 

With all the precipitation in the Rockies this year (we’re at +153% normal snowpack at the moment), we thought we would re-release a publication that highlights at least one important aspect of Colorado snowfall — that is, the significant danger of avalanches. The Snowy Torrents: Avalanche Accidents in the United States 1980-86, compiled and written by Nick Logan and Dale Atkins and illustrated with Larry Scott’s fine pencil drawings, was first published in 1996. We still have a few hard-copies available and, because of that, yes, we do charge for the PDF download. However, Larry went back and re-made the PDF from the original publication file, producing a file that is far better than the rather poor digital scan we had offered previously.

The volume details 146 oft-times harrowing stories surrounding avalanches, the lives they claim, survivors and witnesses, along with assessments as to what happened, why it happened, and what could have been done to prevent loss of life and/or property. The authors are never judgmental, and their clear-eyed accounts contain a wealth of wisdom that will add to the knowledge-base of any winter backcountry enthusiast.


Citation: Logan, Nick, and Dale Atkins. SP-39 The Snowy Torrents: Avalanche Accidents in the United States, 1980–86. Special Publications 39. Denver, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, 1996.
Feb 012017
 

By Jill Carlson

On March 23, 2003, a large avalanche occurred about one mile west of the Town of Silver Plume. The avalanche brought trees, rock, soil and snow to the valley floor, knocked down overhead utility lines, blocked the I-70 frontage road, damaged the town’s water treatment plant (WTP), and dammed Clear Creek. The dam was breached using explosives before the plant’s electric pump motors were flooded. With damage to the WTP’s chlorine contact tank and building, Silver Plume residents had to boil their tap water for over a month.

The avalanche occurred three days after near-record snowfall. It was triggered by additional snow loading in the starting zone caused by a change in wind direction, and began in a known avalanche path above timberline on Pendleton Mountain. Its unusually large volume and velocity caused it to unexpectedly reach the valley floor, along a path not previously identified as an avalanche chute. Rick Gaubatz, the Town’s water commissioner, counted 110 rings in a spruce tree that was found in the avalanche debris at the damaged WTP, indicating that an avalanche of similar magnitude had not occurred in the immediate area in at least 110 years.

Avalanche debris in the runout zone taken by Xcel Energy from a helicopter on the morning after the avalanche occurred, 24 March, 2003.

Avalanche debris in the runout zone taken by Xcel Energy from a helicopter on the morning after the avalanche occurred, 24 March 2003.

Continue reading »

Jan 312017
 

A collaboration between the CGS and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) has resulted in a new stratigraphic chart for the state of Colorado. This beautifully (offset-)printed 42″ x 39″ color chart was designed from the ground up to illustrate the Proterozoic to Holocene stratigraphy that spans the state’s many sedimentary basins. A collaborative effort led by Robert Raynolds and James Hagadorn, the chart builds upon the work of dozens of colleagues and updates Richard Pearl’s seminal 1974 stratigraphy chart. The chart leverages the community’s stratigraphic work in both the subsurface and outcrop, and depicts new geochronologic constraints for many units. To facilitate comparison of strata to external forcing factors, the chart employs a linear timescale. Each unit’s dominant depositional environment is depicted as are major mountain building events, erosional events, and regional unconformities. Printed on heavy-duty 100# coated cover stock, these rolled posters may be purchased from the CGS online bookstore. They will make a fine gift for geoscientists, rockhounds, or anyone interested in how Colorado’s magnificent landscapes came to be.



From the chart itself:

Colorado’s stratigraphy is dominated by gaps. The distribution of strata reflects the tectonic and climatic evolution of each of the region’s eleven basin areas, depicted in the map below. To foster comparison of these patterns, we have organized the stratigraphy using a linear timescale and illustrated where orogenic uplift has led to removal of strata or nondeposition. Not all orogenic features are illustrated on the chart. For example, some orogenies caused sediment ponding and accumulation in intermontane basins, such as during the Laramide in northwestern Colorado. In the past ~10 Ma, regional uplift has raised Colorado and has allowed the modern landscapes to be created due to erosion. The chart’s color scheme for stratigraphic units gives a sense of dominant lithologies and depositional environments across basins. Updates to this chart, as well as additional stratigraphic resources, such as stratigraphic and structural cross-sections, may be found at http://coloradostratigraphy.org. To learn more about the unit names on this chart, resources are available at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Geolex site. This chart scaffolds on the work of Richard H. Pearl’s 1977 compilation (Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists, Special Publication 2). With the exception of the Carboniferous and Permian periods, this data has been re-cast against the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s chronostratigraphic chart v. 2015/01, updated at http://stratigraphy.org.


Citation: Raynolds, R. G., and James W. Hagadorn. “MS-53 Colorado Stratigraphy Chart.” Stratigraphic. Map Series 53. Denver, CO: Colorado Geological Survey and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, January 2017.
Jan 302017
 

Introduction

The earth’s surface can subside because of underground mining when rock is removed at depth. Although subsidence can occur due to hard rock mining, this article only considers the effects of coal mining.

When coal is extracted underground, gravity and the weight of the overlying rock may cause the layers of rock to shift and sink downward into the void left by the removal of the coal. Ultimately, this process can affect the surface, causing the ground to sag and crack and holes to form. Merely an inch of differential subsidence beneath a residential structure can cause several thousand dollars worth of damage.

Subsidence can happen suddenly and without warning. Detailed investigations of an undermined area are needed before development occurs to resolve the magnitude of the subsidence hazard and to determine if safe construction is possible. While investigations after development can determine the extent of undermining and potential subsidence, often, existing buildings cannot be protected against subsidence hazards. The cost of remedial measures is often extremely high. Continue reading »

Jan 232017
 

The CGS’s Matt Morgan and Jon White were two of the co-authors on one of the top-ten Geological Society of America (GSA) 2016 book chapters and journal articles, this out of 600 papers. The article describes a comprehensive forensic analysis of the massive West Salt Creek rock avalanche that occurred in late May 2014 in western Colorado (USA). The analysis relied on large-scale (1:1000) structural mapping accomplished via high-resolution unmanned aircraft system imagery along with seismic data generated by more than twenty stations within approximately 500 miles (800 km) of the event. The avalanche was the largest mass-movement slope failure in the historical record of Colorado, and it killed three people, narrowly avoiding destroying a gas wellhead.


Citation: Coe, Jeffrey A., Rex L. Baum, Kate E. Allstadt, Bernard F. Kochevar, Robert G. Schmitt, Matthew L. Morgan, Jonathan L. White, Benjamin T. Stratton, Timothy A. Hayashi, and Jason W. Kean. 2016. “Rock-Avalanche Dynamics Revealed by Large-Scale Field Mapping and Seismic Signals at a Highly Mobile Avalanche in the West Salt Creek Valley, Western Colorado.” Geosphere 12 (2): 607–31. doi:10.1130/GES01265.1.
Jan 162017
 

On solid ground — that’s how many of us think of good old, stable earth. So it’s disconcerting when the ground moves out from under us in any way.

Because of our environment, history, and geology, Colorado has conditions where ground movements can costs millions of dollars in annual property damage from repair and remediation, litigation, required investigations, and mitigation. There has been recent attention to swelling clay soils and heaving claystone bedrock, and the media has helped publicize these problems, which are predominant along the Front Range. But that’s only half the story. Geologic hazards in Colorado also include ground that sinks. Ground subsidence and soil settlement pose significant hazards in Colorado in many areas throughout the state. A variety of causes, some human-made and others inherent to the geology and geomorphology of Colorado, cause these sinking problems. Continue reading »