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.
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