The 366 daily episodes in 2014 were chronological snapshots of earth history, beginning with the Precambrian in January and on to the Cenozoic in December. You can find them all in the index in the right sidebar. In 2015, the daily episodes for each month were assembled into monthly packages, and a few new episodes were posted. Now, the blog/podcast is on a weekly schedule with diverse topics, and the Facebook Page showcases photos on Mineral Monday and Fossil Friday. Thanks for your interest!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

June 14. Mississippian chert

First, my disclaimer about the time scale of this calendar of earth history. It’s not at a proper scale. If it were, we’d be in the Precambrian until mid-November. So I’ve arbitrarily assigned the Precambrian to January, the Cenozoic Era to December, and the months between are the periods of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras. It’s June, and that means we’re in the Mississippian Period.

We’ve talked a bit about chert before, but today’s short episode is to say a little more about it.

Chert, fined-grained impure silica, SiO2, appears in sedimentary rocks in two ways. It can form when silica-rich waters percolate through the rocks after they have solidified, with the chert deposited in openings within the rock. And it can be an original part of the rock, deposited at the same time as the rest of the sediment.

Chert does appear in sedimentary rocks earlier in the Paleozoic era, but it’s really quite rare until the Mississippian Period. Tiny animals called radiolarians secrete siliceous shells. Radiolarians span the entire time from Cambrian to present, but they may have increased in abundance during the Mississippian so that their skeletal remains could have contributed to the increased abundance of chert in the Mississippian rock record, but I’m not sure if that is the explanation for Mississippian chert.

Radiolarian remains today on the deep ocean floor cover large areas with siliceous ooze, soft sediment made mostly of radiolarians and diatoms, algae that also make siliceous shells. Siliceous ooze on the ocean floor is probably chert in the making. It will take many tens of thousands of years, maybe even millions of years, for the ooze to be buried by additional sediment, for the water to be driven off, and for it to lithify into chert.

Chert comes in a wide variety of colors. It’s often black, but it can be brown, yellow, reddish, and even white. The colors reflect impurities incorporated into the silica, including organic matter and iron.
—Richard I. Gibson

Image from Kunstformen der Natur (1904), by Ernst Haekel, via Wikipedia

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