Post-Cretaceous Weirdness

May 22nd, 2010

GREENVILLE, ALABAMA — The Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary at Mussel Creek, Lowndes County, Alabama, has some unusual complexity.   At the southern end of the section it is simple enough, as shown in a previous blog post.  Just a few meters north, though, the boundary section looks like this:

Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary section at Mussel Creek, Lowndes County, Alabama (N 31.97176°, W 086.70414°). The "K" indicates Cretaceous rock; the "T' marks Tertiary sediments; the rounded black object is charcoalized wood.

This strange stratigraphy appears to be a stream channel filled with carbonaceous (carbon-bearing) laminated sediments which were incised into the Cretaceous Prairie Bluff Formation below.  Is this channel Cretaceous or Tertiary?  What sort of environmental conditions does it represent?  We discussed and tested many hypotheses on the outcrop this morning, which is always great fun.  We finally decided that these channel-filling sediments are Tertiary, following the conclusions of some (but not all) previous authors.  Still, the beds are unlike any channel-fills I’ve seen before, especially with all the carbon.  My favorite idea (which has no support in the literature, I quickly add) is that this channel represents erosion of a continent devastated by the impact blast in Yucatan just across the Gulf of Mexico.  The local forests were burned off in the massive wildfires (and maybe further devastated by a tsunami), leading to rapid erosion and the cutting and filling of channels on the shallow marine shelf here.  All the carbon is from the enormous amounts of burned wood.

This is what we would call a romantic view of stratigraphy.  It would mean that the big piece of charcoal in the section above is from a tree burned in the end-Cretaceous cataclysm.  I like that idea!

3 Responses to “Post-Cretaceous Weirdness”

  1. Josh Michaelson 22 May 2010 at 10:38 pm

    Or the charcoal could be a random unsuspecting tree that got struck by lightning and fell into a stream after burning and had nothing to do with massive firestorms from an asteroids….this would be the pessimistic view of the same stratigraphy. =)

  2. Josh Michaelson 22 May 2010 at 10:40 pm

    of course, you did teach me goods enough not to add a plural noun to the singular word “a(n)”….ah typos…

  3. Mark Wilsonon 23 May 2010 at 6:03 am

    Yes indeed, Josh, that would be the non-romantic view of the stratigraphy — and certainly more realistic!

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