Archive for the ‘oakland geology puzzles’ Category

Chabot gorge

24 January 2010

As you walk up to Chabot Dam the valley carved by San Leandro Creek opens up below, and it’s quite impressive (click photo for bigger version):

chabot gorge

At the top, the dam is buttressed against a ridge of the volcanic rock of Leona Quarry. Before the dam was built, there must have been quite a defile here:

chabot dam

The rock is nicely exposed just next to the dam, worth taking a close look at:

chabot rock

The gorge is more than 100 meters deep and only a couple hundred meters wide. Like other Oakland stream valleys, it seems large for the stream running through it today. I think much of the hardest work carving the canyons was done during periods of much wetter climate than today. Or maybe it was drier, with the land being more prone to desert-style flash floods.

What makes the Bay?

28 September 2009

san francisco bay

We all admire the Bay when we visit high places, whether it’s here at Dunsmuir Ridge (click for a 2X version) or elsewhere in the Oakland Hills. But why is there such a big basin here?

One ready answer comes when you contemplate the major faults, the San Andreas and the Hayward, that bound the bay on the west and east sides respectively. They aren’t quite parallel, but fan slightly apart as you progress to the north. As the crust moves along these faults, the part between would sink, just like what happens at the smaller scale when a sag basin forms. Maybe it does. Why, then, are the Oakland Hills still rising from compression across the Hayward fault? Well, maybe things shift direction slightly from time to time and the sense of stress across the fault changes. So today we have compression while other times we have extension. But maybe the analogy of sag basins is the wrong one.

Geologists have the same question when we consider the Great Valley, that vast trough between the Sierra and the Coast Range. Most sedimentary basins are depressed by their load of sediments, but not to the point of lying at sea level like the Great Valley. The current working hypothesis about the Great Valley is that it’s a captured slab of oceanic lithosphere, a dense bottom layer, with thick sediments on top. It naturally, persistently rides lower than the continental rocks around it. Might the San Francisco Bay basin be a chunk of the same slab? That’s one hypothesis; we don’t really know.

The roots of the Bay are pretty deep for active-source seismic imaging, the kind of technique used at the Garrido property in Antioch to study a crime scene. The Bay is also pretty small for the passive-source seismic studies used to study the crust and mantle at the regional and continental scale. If you gave me a few million dollars, I could make a stab at an investigation, but no one can spare that for an idle question. So we’ll keep wondering as we stand on the high places.

Cemetery Creek canyon Moraga Canyon

18 August 2009

cemetery creek canyon

The valley of Glen Echo Creek, “Mountain View Valley,” is much larger than the current creek has the power to excavate. This is especially apparent at its head end, above Mountain View Cemetery where the creek is also known as Cemetery Creek. In this view (click it for a larger version), the valley is a steep-sided, tree-filled dogleg, almost a gorge, with homes perched high above a landfilled floor and Moraga Avenue running through it. I think of it as Cemetery Creek Canyon. The Google map below gives a feeling of how odd the canyon is, almost a box canyon with no sizeable watershed to feed it.

UPDATE: By the way, a story in the paper referred to this as Moraga Canyon, so I should probably call it that too, even though Moraga itself is way over the mountain. Once upon a time, Moraga Road did go to Moraga.

I wonder if, like Dimond Canyon, there is an explanation that involves a beheaded watershed from movement on the Hayward fault. The rock at the valley head, above the narrowest spot at Maxwellton Road, is Franciscan mélange, which is not an especially rigid rock. A bit of compression across the fault might squeeze it up, like clay in the hand. I don’t have a way to test this hypothesis, with rock exposures so scarce there, but the idea tickles me every time I look here.

Dunsmuir Ridge and the Irvingtonian gravels

26 June 2009

Just northwest of Lake Chabot are some tiny areas mapped as “Irvington Gravels,” high above the Sheffield Village neighborhood in the Dunsmuir Ridge Open Space. They caught my eye because Irvington (part of present-day Fremont) is the site of a famous set of Ice Age fossils, from which the Irvingtonian age of North American land mammals was established. Yesterday I checked the area out, in case there were some sabertooth-cat fangs lying around. This entry has a lot of photos.

You get there starting at the access at the end of Covington Road, a dirt fire road that goes straight up a steep hillside. The Hayward fault crosses the road partway up, at a little level spot at the edge of the woods. To the west of the fault, the rocks are mapped as San Leandro gabbro (Jurassic rocks of the Coast Range Ophiolite), but it’s really hard to tell:

dunsmuir ridge

Across the fault the rocks change to Late Jurassic volcanic rocks of the Great Valley Sequence, the same stuff exposed in the big Leona quarry:

dunsmuir ridge

Higher up are three small terraces where the gravel is mapped. This is looking south from the northernmost one:

dunsmuir ridge

It looks like a hopeless task to find rocks here. Luckily for me, the fire roads have recently been graded, so there was a window into the substrate. As I approached the terraces, the roadbed started to display river cobbles, quite unexpected in this setting:

dunsmuir ridge

I made a point of crossing the grassy slope to the other two terraces, looking for stones the whole way. Nada. From the southernmost terrace, here’s the view north. Click on the picture for a stereopair:

stereopair

There’s a house on a knoll at the same height as the terraces. The upper part of the Knowland Park Zoo land also lines up with the terraces. No gravel is mapped at either place, but there might be some.

Now the cobbles in the roadbed start to look interesting:

dunsmuir ridge

Above is another, higher terrace. It’s over 500 feet above the starting point and a bit of a trudge.

dunsmuir ridge

Just below it are scattered outcrops of the volcanic bedrock:

outcrop

The roadbeds on the upper terrace also have interesting cobbles. I took a few home to clean up and photograph. Remind me to bring them back on my next visit.

rocks

Russ Graymer, who prepared the Oakland geologic map, describes the suite of cobbles thus: “Cobbles . . . consist of about 60 percent micaceous sandstone, 35 percent metamorphic and volcanic rocks and chert probably derived from the Franciscan complex, and 5 percent black laminated chert and cherty shale derived from the Claremont Formation.” He holds that these little terraces started out near Fremont and were carried here by the Hayward fault. They started out at a much lower elevation too, I would think; just a sign that fault movements are not straightforward.

View of “Mount Ararat”

31 December 2008

mount ararat oakland

One of the geologic puzzles I worked on during 2008 was the identity of “Rockridge Rock.” One candidate is a crag along Acacia Avenue once known as Cactus Rock; another candidate is an outcrop that supposedly was dynamited away in the early 1900s. I’m reluctant to accept either as the true Rockridge Rock without better evidence. In the meantime I’m intrigued by the hillock called “Mt Ararat” on an old map of the area. It’s topped with a bedrock eminence that’s almost completely hidden by homes and trees, but if you remove those (and there’s good historical reason to do that) I think what’s left is a legitimate candidate. This summer, while exploring the ground north of Mountain View Cemetery, I got a fair shot of the hill. Click the photo for a larger view.

I’ve been too busy to carry my search further lately, but I haven’t given up.

Thrust and fold

21 November 2008

The same day I was up at Redwood looking for the bent trees, I ran across this fine example of a thrust fault right next to the Huckleberry Botanic Reserve.

folds

Today I finally got around to putting it in my gallery at About.com—not as a thrust fault (I already have a good one), but as an example of a drag fold. Looks pretty good there, almost textbook quality. But here’s a secret: look at this view of the fault.

folds

I can’t figure out what the double curvature means! I can’t figure out the relationship of the fault to the folds. I feel like a freshman in his first field course. A real geologist would crawl all over this, including the hillside on top, until everything was clear. But I tell myself, the key to being a good scientist is to admit when you’re mystified because enlightenment comes that way. A certain set of people can visualize things ten times as complicated, and I hope one of them will pipe up.

By the way, my spread about Oakland’s geology is in the new Oakbook, the printed one. Go get one for free.

Fossil hunting

25 September 2008

There aren’t many fossils to be found in Oakland. Maybe microfossils—there must be lots of those in the young hilltop rock units. But on the geologic map is a little body of rock up in Montclair that is supposed to have “well-preserved coral fossils” of Paleocene age (that’s 65 to 55 million years old). Recently I checked it out.

outcrop

The rock unit has no formal name; it’s mapped simply as “unnamed glauconitic sandstone” and extends in a belt from Shepherd Canyon north over the ridge to Snake Road. This outcrop is at the intersection of Paso Robles Road and Shepherd Canyon Road. I examined it carefully and found nothing but massive fine sandstone, with almost no bedding and no sign of fossils of any kind.

outcrop

I traversed all the roads in the area where this rock unit was mapped, and the same sandstone was everywhere I looked. At this outcrop on Paso Robles Road, weathering and lighting combined to bring out some subtle bedding planes, but again no sign of fossils.

outcrop

At the north end of the belt, across Snake Road, is Armour Drive. Here is a large landslide scar that has broken Armour Drive in two, and there was plenty of loose rock for me to apply my rock hammer and take home a hand sample. This kind of rock is all I could find, period. But the unit is said to be “coarse-grained, green, glauconite-rich, lithic sandstone” interbedded with “hard, fine-grained, mica-bearing quartz sandstone.” That’s this stuff.

Somewhere in this belt is hiding a bunch of green, gravelly rock with coral fossils in it, and I haven’t looked hard enough to see it. On the other hand, geologic mapping is an imperfect art, and much of the hills has been mapped on the basis of aerial photos with limited work on the ground. Because I work exclusively on the ground, I’m in a position to do better. Maybe the fossils are only along one edge; maybe they belong to a separate subunit that needs to be mapped more precisely. Maybe someone made a mistake. So far, it’s a puzzle.


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