Archive for the ‘Oakland rocks’ Category

The Hayward fault at Warm Springs

17 April 2017

Every extension of BART opens up a new region accessible to geologizers using public transit. So the other week I paid a visit to the far end of the Hayward fault, less than a mile from the new Warm Springs station in south Fremont. The station has nice views of the San Mateo Peninsula mountains to the west and Mission Peak to the east.

It appears, too, that the Irvington Gravels site to the north is accessible for determined walkers who bring provisions — that is, hikers.

To get to the fault just walk east on South Grimmer Boulevard toward the place marked “Weibel” on Google Maps.

Here’s the same area in Jim Lienkaemper’s detailed 1992 map of the fault. The map has a key to all the annotations. Note that both images are tilted to make the fault vertical; north is at about 1:30.

The fault runs through the “D” in “Blvd.”

Look back at the Google Maps image. See the line of green along the fault trace? That’s because of the 1972 Alquist-Priolo Act, which forbids new construction within 50 feet of an active fault. The area in the middle must have been built up before the act took effect. That’s where I went.

South Grimmer reveals the offset from fault creep well. This view is looking east toward Mission Peak. On the fault map, the locality (just below the horizontal dashed line) is circled and labeled “C1,rc,rf” signifying “strongly pronounced” evidence of creep in the form of right-offset curbs and a right-offset fence line.

And this is the other side of the road, looking west. Notice that the sidewalk is offset as well as the curb.

There’s another, much smaller offset higher up the slope that I didn’t get a good picture of. Repeated measurements show that together these offsets add up to about 6 millimeters per year. The slope itself is a sign of the fault, too.

To the north across little Arroyo Agua Caliente Park on Gardenia Way, this nice set of echelon cracks marks the fault trace. That’s what the “ec” in the circle labeled “C1,ec,rc,cc” stands for.

The fault nips the corner of Gardenia and Ivy Way, bending this curb (the “rc” in the label).

The city or the homeowner copes with the sidewalk by patching it as needed. You’ll see stuff like this everywhere on the Hayward fault.

Walking north through the park to Parkmeadow Drive on its north edge, you can look west down the street and see both an offset curb and the change in slope that marks the fault.

You can do this yourself all along the fault. The map has all the evidence (and the USGS has an updated version as of 2008).

A week later I hosted two French journalists — a writer and a photographer — for an afternoon, showing them fault offset features like these up in Hayward and Oakland. The writer went and spoke to a resident whose home was on the fault, and his fatalistic response took her aback a bit. She said “we don’t have attitudes like this in France.” I told her we Californians have been this way since the Gold Rush.

East Bay diatomite

3 April 2017

The geologic map I rely on for this blog — U.S. Geological Survey map MF-2342 — extends north to Pinole, where it shows this little pod of rocks labeled “Tsa” and “Tdi” between Pinole, El Sobrante and Richmond.

Both units are of early Miocene age: Tsa stands for sandstone and Tdi stands for diatomite. The T stands for Tertiary, the catch-all term for Cenozoic rocks older than Quaternary, which — OK, you don’t need the whole lecture just now. The point is, I had to go see this diatomite because I didn’t know it existed in the East Bay. I’ve seen it in the Central Valley, but never around here.

Going north on I-80 you take the Appian Way exit right and immediately turn left on Sarah Drive. Down at the bottom of a valley is Pinole’s little, undeveloped Sarah Drive Park.

On the way to the hilltop, you start seeing this odd rock in the road. Pick up a piece and you’ll find it’s very light. That’s the diatomite.

The trail becomes very steep, exposing the bedrock. The hilltop affords nice views. I was especially taken with the view north.

And the view east looks up Pinole Valley toward Mount Diablo on the horizon. If you’re riding toward Sacramento on the Capitol Corridor Amtrak train, there’s a moment just east of Point Pinole where you can catch this same view of the mountain.

And there were butterflies.

So that’s all great. But here’s what’s cool about the diatomite.

Diatomite is composed of diatoms, the microscopic algae that make shells of silica. As an industrial commodity it’s also called diatomaceous earth, or DE, or kieselguhr if you’re feeling smart. As the stabilizing agent for nitroglycerin in dynamite, it made Alfred Nobel’s fortune, and that’s why we have the Nobel Prize.

As its silica content slowly turns into the crystalline mineral quartz, diatomite becomes the rock called chert. As it happens, the Pinole diatomite is about the same age as the chert in Oakland’s Claremont Shale. By some tectonic accident, it avoided being converted, and you can enjoy its lightweight charm without a trip to Los Banos.

Origins of Oakland ocher

27 March 2017

Before Europeans came into this country, the locals treasured the ocher deposits in the East Oakland hills. Ocher is the name for a variety of clay-like, iron-rich minerals with a color range from yellow to red to brown. For tens of thousands of years, we’ve used ocher as pigments and preservative coatings. Some cultures would bury their dead in it.

Our ocher deposits formed exclusively in the Leona volcanics, because that body of rocks was permeated with pyrite by hydrothermal springs as it rode on the seafloor toward North America, back in the Late Jurassic. Pyrite is pure iron sulfide (FeS2) and looks like this.

You can get nice crystals of it at any rock shop.

In the Leona volcanics, you’ll sometimes see pyrite in fresh exposures, like this roadside boulder along Campus Drive. It’s gray because the crystals are so small.

Oxygen, in air or in water, breaks pyrite down. The sulfur turns into sulfuric acid and leaches away while the iron oxidizes into a range of minerals on the ocher spectrum. This process reliably turns the surface of the Leona orange and red, like here in the former Crusher Quarry.

Pure, straight iron oxide (Fe2O3) is the mineral hematite, or red ocher. It can look black, but when powdered it turns the lovely color shown on the streak plates.

Between pure FeS2 and pure Fe2O3 is a range of hydrated iron oxides that form ochers of different colors. The roadcut on lower Redwood Road, at the site of the former Alma Mine, shows off some of them well. Here’s a hematite crust, which is right near a piece of concrete pavement that’s eaten out by acid.

And here’s a beautiful brown crust.

Most likely this is goethite (“GUUH-tite”), or brown ocher or sienna, an iron oxyhydroxide with the formula FeO(OH). Here’s a specimen I collected in Wisconsin, with a glittering crust of hematite on it.

Yellow ocher has even more water associated with it — the formula is FeO(OH) · nH2O. That’s what I would call this crust in the Crusher Quarry.

There are wild cards in this scheme, namely manganese oxides and jarosite. Manganese oxide, the mineral psilomelane (“sigh-LOW-ma-lane”), is black. Just a few percent turns ocher into umber. (So does carbon.) Jarosite is a hydrated iron sulfate that can form if some of the sulfur lingers instead of turning to acid. It has yellow to brown colors.

So really good ocher, in chunks worth the effort of digging, is hard to find. Oakland once had a large body of it that had slowly gathered on top of the Leona volcanics as the rock beneath was etched away by acid. Such an iron-oxide cap is called a gossan. A little bit of the deposit is preserved on the Holy Names University campus.

All of these ocherous minerals are important ingredients in soil, especially in dry regions. Rarely are they pure, though. Oakland’s ocher patch was the center of a widespread trade, back in the day. But in the late 1800s, Americans mined it out and turned it into red paint.