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A concretion is a volume of sedimentary rock in which a mineral cement fills the porosity (i.e. the spaces between the sediment grains). Concretions are often ovoid or spherical in shape, although irregular shapes also occur. The word 'concretion' is derived from the Latin con meaning 'together' and cresco meaning 'to grow'. Concretions form within layers of sedimentary strata that have already been deposited. They usually form early in the burial history of the sediment, before the rest of the sediment is hardened into rock. This concretionary cement often makes the concretion harder and more resistant to weathering than the host stratum.
Descriptions dating from the 18th century attest to the fact that concretions have long been regarded as fascinating geological curiosities. Because of the variety of unusual shapes, sizes and compositions, concretions have been variously interpreted to be dinosaur eggs, animal and plant fossils (called pseudofossils), extra-terrestrial debris or human artifacts.
Additional recommended knowledge
Detailed studies (i.e., Boles et al., 1985; Thyne and Boles, 1989; Scotchman, 1991; Mozley and Burns, 1993; McBride et al., 2003; Chan et al., 2005; Mozley and Davis, 2005) published in peer-reviewed journals, have demonstrated that they form subsequent to burial during diagenesis. They quite often, but not always, form by the precipitation of a considerable amount of cementing material around a nucleus, often organic, such as a leaf, tooth, piece of shell or fossil. For this reason, fossil collectors commonly break open concretions in their search for fossil animal and plant specimens. One of the most unusual concretion nuclei, as documented by Al-Agha et al. (1995), are World War II military shells, bombs, and shrapnel, which are found inside siderite concretions found in an English coastal salt marsh.
Depending on the specific environmental conditions present at the time of their formation, concretions can be created by either concentric or pervasive growth (Mozley, 1996; Raiswell and Fisher, 2000). In concentric growth, the concretion grows as successive layers of mineral accrete to its surface. This process results in the radius of the concretion growing with time. In case of pervasive growth, cementation of the host sediments, by infilling of its pore space by precipitated minerals, occurs simultaneously throughout the volume of the area, which in time becomes a concretion.
Concretions vary in shape, hardness and size, ranging from objects that require a magnifying lens to be clearly visible to huge bodies three meters in diameter and weighing several thousand pounds. The giant, red concretions occurring in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in North Dakota, are almost 3 m (10 feet) in diameter. Spheroidal concretions, as large as 9 m (30 feet) in diameter, have been found eroding out of the Qasr El Sagha Formation within the Faiyum depression of Egypt. Concretions are usually similar in color to the rock in which they are found. In shape, concretions occur in a wide variety of shapes, including spheres, disks, tubes, and grape-like or soap bubble-like aggregates.
They are commonly composed of a carbonate mineral such as calcite; an amorphous or microcrystalline form of silica such as chert, flint, or jasper; or an iron oxide or hydroxide such as goethite and hematite. They can also be composed of other minerals that include dolomite, ankerite, siderite, pyrite, marcasite, barite and gypsum, to name a few.
Although concretions often consist of single dominate mineral, other minerals can be present in variable amounts depending the specific environmental conditions, which created them. For example, carbonate concretions, which form in response to the reduction of sulfates by bacteria, often contain variable, but typically minor, percentages of pyrite. Other concretions, which formed as a result of microbial sulfate reduction, consist of a mixture of calcite, barite, and pyrite in variable proportions.
Concretions are found in a wide variety of rocks, and are particularly common in shales, siltstones, and sandstones. They often outwardly resemble fossils or rocks that look as if they do not belong to the stratum in which they were found. Occasionally, concretions contain a fossil, either as its nucleus or as a component that was incorporated during its growth but concretions are not fossils themselves. They appear in nodular patches, concentrated along bedding planes, protruding from weathered cliffsides, randomly distributed over mudhills or perched on soft pedestals.
Small hematite concretions ("blueberries") have recently been observed on Mars. See Martian spherules.
Types of concretions
Some of the types and names, which are often found mentioned on the Internet and in popular articles, of concretions are septarian concretions, cannonball concretions, Moqui (Moki) marbles, and pop rocks.
Septarian concretions or septarian nodules, are concretions containing angular cavities or cracks, which are called "septaria". The word comes from the Latin word septum; "partion", and refers to the cracks/separations in this kind of rock. One occasionally finds the errant explanation that it comes from the Latin word for "seven", septem, referring to the number of cracks that commonly occur, but this untrue.
The process or processes, which created the septaria, which characterize septarian concretions, remains an unresolved mystery. A number of mechanisms, i.e. the dehydration of clay-rich, gel-rich, or organic-rich cores; shrinkage of the concretion's center; expansion of gases produced by the decay of organic matter; brittle fracturing of the concentration by either earthquakes or compaction; and others, have been proposed for the formation of septaria. At this time, it is uncertain, which, if any, of these and other proposed mechanisms is responsible for the formation of septaria in septarian concretions (McBride et al. 2003). Septaria usually contain crystals precipitated from circulating solutions, usually of calcite. Siderite or pyrite coatings are also occasionally observed on the wall of the cavities present in the septaria, giving rise respectively to a panoply of bright reddish and golden colors. Some septaria may also contain small calcite stalagtites and well-shaped millimetric pyrite single crystals. A well-known and spectacular example of septarian concretions, which are as much as 3 meters (9 feet) in diameter, is the Moeraki Boulders. These concretions are found eroding out of Paleocene mudstone of the Moeraki Formation exposed along the coast near Moeraki, South Island, New Zealand. They are composed of calcite-cemented mud with septarian veins of calcite and rare late-stage quartz and ferrous dolomite (Boles et al. 1985, Thyne and Boles 1989). Very similar concretions, which are as much as 3 meter (9 feet) in diameter and called "Koutu Boulders", litter the beach between Koutu and Kauwhare points along the south shore of the Hokianga Harbour of Hokianga, North Island, New Zealand. The much smaller septarian concretions found in the Kimmeridge Clay exposed in cliffs along the Wessex Coast of England are more typical examples of septarian concretions (Scotchman 1991).
Cannonball concretions are large spherical concretions, which resemble cannonballs. Cannonball concretions, which are found along the Cannonball River within Morton and Sioux Counties, North Dakota, are as large as 3 m (10 feet) in diameter. They were created by early cementation of sand and silt by calcite. Similar cannonball concretions, which are as much as 4 to 6 m (12 to 18 feet) in diameter, are found associated with sandstone outcrops of the Frontier Formation in northeast Utah and central Wyoming. They formed by the early cementation of sand by calcite (McBride et al. 2003). Somewhat weathered and eroded giant cannonball concretions, as large as 6 meters (18 feet) in diameter, occur in abundance at "Rock City" in Ottawa County, Kansas. The Moeraki and Koutu boulders of New Zealand are example of septarian concretions, which are also cannonball concretions. Large spherical rocks, which are found on the shore of Lake Huron near Kettle Point, Ontario, and locally known as "kettles", are typical cannonball concretions. Cannonball concretions have also been reported from Van Mijenfjorden, Spitsbergen; near Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, Canada; Jameson Land, East Greenland; near Mecevici, Ozimici, and Zavidovici in Bosnia-Herzegovina; and many other places around the world. The most recent reports of cannonball concretions come from Bandeng and Zhanlong hills near Gongxi Town, Hunan Province, China.
Elongate concretions form parallel to sedimentary strata and have been studied extensively due to the inferred influence of phreatic (saturated) zone groundwater flow direction on the orientation of the axis of elongation (e.g., Johnson, 1989; McBride et al., 1994; Mozley and Goodwin, 1995; Mozley and Davis, 2005). In addition to providing information about the orientation of past fluid flow in the host rock, elongate concretions can provide insight into local permeability trends (i.e., permeability correlation structure; Mozley and Davis, 1996), variation in groundwater velocity (Davis, 1999), and the types of geological features that influence flow.
Moqui Marbles also called Moqui balls, and "Moki marbles", are iron oxide concretions, which can found eroding in great abundance out of outcrops of the Navajo Sandstone within south-central and southeastern Utah. These concretions range in shape from spheres to discs, buttons, spiked balls, cylindrical forms, and other odd shapes. They range in size of from the size of peas to marbles and, rarely, baseballs. They were created by the precipitation of iron, which was dissolved in groundwater. These concretions are argued to be a terrestrial analogue of the Martian hematite spherules, called "blueberries" (Chan and Parry 2002, Chan et al. 2005).
Kansas Pop rocks
Kansas Pop rocks are concretions of either iron sulfide, i.e. pyrite and marcasite, or in some cases jarosite, which are found in outcrops of the Smoky Hill Chalk Member of the Niobrara Formation within Grove County, Kansas. They are typically associated with thin layers of altered volcanic ash, called bentonite, which occur within the chalk comprising the Smoky Hill Chalk Member. A few of these concretions enclose, at least in part, large flattened valves of inoceramid bivalves. These concretions range in size from a few millimeters to as much as 0.7 m (2.3 ft) in length and 12 cm (0.4 ft) in thickness. Most of these concretions are oblate spheroids shape. Other "pop rocks" are small polycuboidal pyrite concretions, which are as much as 7 cm (0.23-foot) in diameter (Hattin 1982). These concretions are called "pop rocks" because they explode if thrown in a fire. Also, when they are either cut or hammered, they produce sparks and a burning sulfur smell. Contrary to what has published on the Internet, none of the iron sulfide concretions, which are found in the Smoky Hill Chalk Member, were created by either the replacement of fossils or by metamorphic processes. In fact, metamorphic rocks are completely absent from the Smoky Hill Chalk Member (Hattin 1982). Instead, all of these the iron sulfide concretions were created by the precipitation of iron sulfides within anoxic marine calcareous ooze after it had accumulated and before it had lithified into chalk.
Iron sulfide concretions, such as the Kansas Pop rocks, consisting of either pyrite and marcasite, are nonmagnetic (Hobbs and Hafner 1999). On the other hand, iron sulfide concretions, which either are composed of or contain either pyrrhotite or symthite, will be magnetic to varying degrees (Hoffmann, 1993). Prolonged heating of either a pyrite or marcasite concretion will convert portions of either mineral into pyrrhotite causing the concretion to become slightly magnetic.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Concretion". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.