A Range Front Fault... not so old, maybe?

There are some really beautiful rocks in the Damara Sequence here - hanging wall of the Sole Thrust. Here's a lovely marble. So elegantly foliated. So flat-lying and unsheared. It's part of a strange and complex assemblage - just below it are the strangest diamictites I have ever seen. Could it be part of a Snowball Earth Assemblage? A "cap carbonate"?Just downsection from that, we have this ridiculously gorgeous volcaniclastic fluvial shale... Those are green mudclasts in a purple matrix. But what's this? It appears to be sheared downward to the north. (this sample did not survive transport home, by the way. One must always pack one's own rocks to avert tragedy!! I have a million small chips of purple shale in the bottom of a bucket now.)

Even better/weirder - here's a strange diamictite (further down-section still). The clasts are featureless or ooid-bearing dark blue limestone, generally well-rounded and aligned (e.g. this is not a tillite). The matrix is brownish carbonate and a bit of siliciclastic material (formerly clay). Here you can see the undeformed diamictite in outcrop (below) with a boulder (my boulder) of ductily strained diamictite above. So. Good.
Here's Ben and Jodie on the edge between the horizontal undeformed rocks (e.g. marble, top photo) and the steeply north-dipping, deformed rocks. Much discussion and waving of the arms. Ben is hunting for the perfect sample. Ben has quite a talent for this and will quietly chip at a rock for a long time until it is just right. Jodie: what do you mean, "recent fault"?

Along strike from where we are standing - this. You can see the steeply dipping rocks to the north (downhill) and the flat-lying rocks to the south (uphill). In between? chaos. Ben and I spent quite a while looking up there and trying to figure it all out- but no time to climb that hill!! I will return, I assure you.

Same hill, different vantage point; this time looking about ENE directly along the fault strike:

Retreating to the car, in advance of another rain storm. Ben carried his large sample on his head as he had learned as a child in Zambia. All the way, he kept up a monologue on the fact that African women are the most beautiful and hard-working in the world.
But wait, what's that behind Ben, in the range front? It's the Klein Blasskopf Tufa Cascade. Although I now know the proper terminology, I still prefer "death star of tufa". The interpreted photo below shows the bedding orientation uphill and downhill in the range front, the dashed line shows the approximate surface trace of the fault.

Now I will tell you some "geologic evidences" (as my Italian colleague likes to say):
  • this range-front is linear
  • 2 additional tufa cascades occur along this range front
  • a pool fed by a spring coming up from below is on top of the tufa cascade
  • Drag of the folded strata in the range front suggests north-northwest-dipping normal faulting
  • this normal fault crosscuts low-angle thrusts which characterize the hangingwall - crosscuts Damara bedding and structures.

Now for a geochemical argument from a non-geochemist -
All things being equal, ground water flowing upward toward the surface will depressurize. This leads to precipitation of carbonates, for example, in local boreholes. Assuming the ground water reservoirs in the Naukluft are not significantly deep to be geothermal (supported by temperature data at sampling points), depressurization is the most significant effect on solubility. Therefore, a vertical conduit of increased permeability (e.g. a normal fault) may be expected to transmit fluids upwards and thereby cause cementation of its own conduit. This is a one-way process and permeability of the fault will therefore approach ambient permeability with time. Given the propensity of the regional system for A LOT OF CARBONATE MOVING AROUND and the observations that some tufa deposition is active today at the surface (Stone, pers. comm. 2008), I will hazard a guess that a fault conduit would close rapidly rather than slowly. Given that the Blasskrans Normal Fault (yes I am naming this speculative feature now) is an open conduit after a long period of tufa deposition, I suggest a mechanism is necessary for re-opening fluid conduits against the effects of cementation. Possibilities:
  1. wild variations in fluid flux
  2. wild variations in fluid source, carbonate under-saturated fluids dissolve cements
  3. fault moves and breaks rocks/cements in recent past
  4. fault is actually a barrier to fluid flow, causing venting at the surface when ground water flowing down hill cannot cross it and gets backed up
  5. most of cascade are built of surface water and there isnt really that much spring water involved (isotopically testable; preliminary results show significant differences in deuterium ratios between spring and surface waters and rain, Naude, pers. comm. 2008)
  6. i'm sure there are others....

Note that 1, 2, and 3 can all be explained by motion on the fault. Only problem? No documented evidence for tectonic activity in this region (like, all of W Africa) in the last... I don't know... 500Ma give or take a few? Yah. Well, that's not recent enough to explain 1, 2, and 3. So.

My geographer friend and GIS geomorphologist has seen subtle features in the Kalahari which suggest some recent very slow tectonic strain (Eckhart, pers comm 2008). My predecessor in this job, Giulio, has calculated the torque on western southern Africa generated by the zipper-like opening of the East African Rift and predicted north-northwest principle stress across southern Namibia (Viola et al 2005 in EPSL), supported by offshore mud volcanoes along strike-slip faults.

So -no way to link my new fault into this framework yet, but hopefully this demonstrates to the skeptical reader that neotectonics are alive, well, painfully slow and sadly unrecognized in this part of Africa.

Still exploring ideas of post-orogenic relaxation and/or gravity for the Blasskrans fault. Further work is necessary....

1 comment:

Ishmael said...

Could you post or point to a glossary of terms? You're way above what I remember from my college geology, because -- and you'll probably think this is funny -- I was in college during the stone age.

What's a fault thrust? Why is compass direction important in describing features? Why does my brain hurt so?


p.s. Write to el Sandinista to apply to read his blog, which has gone underground and is open to members only -- kinda like those spiffy jackets from the 80s.