1 September 2010

Another metamorphosed graded bed

Posted by Callan Bentley

Over the summer, when my blogging access was limited to my iPhone, I uploaded a photo (taken with the iPhone) of a metamorphosed graded bed on the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire.

Here’s another one that I saw, further down on the mountain, on the Auto Road (famous for its iconic bumper sticker):

Lens cap for scale. …And here’s the obligatory annotated copy:

Both of these images are enlargeable by clicking through (twice).

I think today’s photos are of better quality than the iPhone photo. This is the coolest freakin’ thing ever. What you have here are alternating beds of quartzite and andalusite schist. The boundaries between the two rock units are alternately crisp and gradational. Interpretation? Once upon a time, you had a turbidite sequence where the bigger, heavier grains (quartz sand) settled out first, followed by progressively finer and finer mud. The base of the graded bed is a crisp transition from mud to sand, but then as you go up through the graded bed, it grades from sand into mud.

Later, these distinctive primary structures were metamorphosed during the late Devonian-aged east coast mountain building episode called the Acadian Orogeny. The high temperatures and pressures cooked the rock. The sandy part, dominated by quartz, didn’t really change mineralogy much under the metamorphic conditions. The muddy part, on the other hand, was chock full of clay minerals which are not in equilibrium under elevated temperatures and pressures, so they reacted chemically. Their elements reorganized into new minerals: big honkin’ crystals of the mineral andalusite. They might just as well have reorganized into sillimanite or kyanite if conditions were slightly different, but temperature dominated over pressure, so andalusite was the mineral form that was stable (at equilibrium) under those conditions.

As a result, the “mud” was now coarser grained than the “sand.” The overall sense of grading had been flipped by the metamorphosis, yet the overall crisp/gradual pattern was preserved. This, my friends, is exquisite.