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 (link in index at right), and a few new episodes were posted from 2015-18. Beginning in May 2019, I'm adding short entries to the blog (not as podcast episodes, at least not for now, sorry!) mostly taken from the Facebook Page posts. Thanks for your interest!

Friday, May 17, 2019

An extension of the Mid-Continent Rift?

In the far northwest corner of the flat, flat Texas panhandle, extending into New Mexico, there’s a narrow, elongate magnetic low. The intensity of the anomaly – 250 nanoTesla or more – says it’s fundamentally the expression of a lithologic change rather than a structure; i.e. it represents something pretty strongly magnetic. Its long narrow geometry is that of a dike. And its negative value suggests that it’s reversely polarized, solidifying from magma during a time when the earth’s magnetic field was in the orientation opposite to that today.
All that is interesting, I guess, but the thing has much broader implications. If it is a dike – which is likely in my opinion – that suggests that it formed at a time when extension, pulling apart, was the dominant stress in this area. Dikes can form under compression, but it’s a lot easier for them to intrude if the rocks are pulling apart, opening up cracks into which magma can force itself.
The northeast-southwest orientation is also intriguing, because it points pretty much dead on at a possible branch of the Mid-Continent Rift, a pull-apart feature that runs from Kansas through southeast Nebraska, northeast across Iowa, up into Minnesota, and into Lake Superior. It’s a 1.1-billion-year-old break in North America – a break that failed to completely dismember the continent, but just formed a long narrow trough filled in many places with dense, magnetic basalt. Kind of like the Red Sea today, but not as linear.
This dike in the Texas panhandle isn’t trivial – it’s at least 45 miles (70 kilometers) long. There are additional similar features on trend with it in Kansas. My interpretation is that it represents a far away expression of the extension and intrusion related to the Mid-Continent Rift System. This possible relationship is shown in a map below.
The depth to these rocks in the panhandle is probably only 3500 or 4000 feet, but to my knowledge there is no drilling to those depths in this area, so we don’t actually have rocks to validate this interpretation. But I’d bet a beer that you’d find a reversely polarized dike of basalt or similar lithology, containing a decent amount of magnetite, that solidified around 1.1 billion years ago.

—Richard I. Gibson

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