A hunt for silica-carbonate

The geologic map of the northern East Bay that I rely on has a few rock units that are very small and hard to notice. One of them is the ultra-purple unit designated “silica-carbonate rock.” The map shows only three small exposures — one in Oakland and two in Berkeley — but they’re close enough to each other to visit in an afternoon.

silicacarbonatemap

So that’s what I did back in August, hiking from the lower-right corner to the upper-left through all three areas.

“Silica-carbonate rock” is what happens when serpentine rock is invaded by superhot carbonated fluids, which replace the serpentine minerals with quartz and magnesium carbonates (dolomite and magnesite). The spectacular mercury deposits of the New Almaden and McLaughlin mines are of this type.

I wasn’t too sure what to look for, except that a rock made of hydrothermal quartz and Mg carbonates would be white and messy. Fortunately, the U.S. Geological Survey library, in Menlo Park, has a boulder-size specimen of mercury ore sitting around.

silicacarbonate

Unfortunately, that’s not a very informative specimen; moreover it’s labeled “calc-silicate rock,” which would be quite different (it’s what happens when lime rocks are invaded by silica-rich fluids). So who knows.

To traverse the first locality, I started at the end of Chabot Road.

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It’s a highly disturbed place where railroads, streets, culverts and freeways have come through over the years, and it’s hard upon the Hayward fault. There is little promise of bedrock here, but I kept a close eye out anyway. There was some float, or loose rock, that was likely local: some brecciated stuff from the Leona “rhyolite,” tumbled down from its exposures above Tunnel Road.

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Some more of the “rhyolite” plus gray sandstone from the Franciscan melange mapped to the west.

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And at the north end, during a strenuous climb, some Franciscan chert from the melange.

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The next locality is at the top of the UC Berkeley campus. That was hopeless, given all the buildings and landscaping. Except for Founders Rock.

foundersrock

This excellent knocker has a plaque on the back that reads, “Founders Rock / College of California / April 16, 1860 / Inscribed May 9, 1896” but there are no geological notes. Close up, the rock is enigmatic.

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Not much to do here but scratch your head, and feel sorry for any geology students assigned to write a report on this rock.

Onward through Berkeley’s steep hills to Keith Street, the third locality. That’s a residential street with all of its bedrock hidden, but I scrutinized the stone walls, in case the builders had used local rocks. You never know.

Some of those were could-bes. (A reminder: all of my photos click through to a 600- or 800-pixel image.)

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What I see in these is a uniform light color, suggesting pervasive alteration to siliceous material; brecciation and deformation, typical of an active hydrothermal environment; hints of channels and fractures such as you’d expect from hydrothermal replacement; and bits of iron staining from weathering sulfides. Without chemical tests and petrographic thin sections to examine, none of that is definitive. I did drop acid on them, but there was no reaction, nor would you expect one.

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That’s OK, I still had fun. And North Berkeley neighborhoods are famous for their integration of stone with stylish dwellings of all vintages.

Because it was a one-way walk, from the Rockridge BART station to the 67 bus line, this qualifies as a ramble.

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