Here are some more pictures of the boulders at the eastern end of Charmouth Beach in Dorset, England, all exhibiting natural fracture patterns in sedimentary rock belonging to the Jurassic Charmouth Mudstone Formation. I’m not sure which particular layer they come from but it could be the Black Ven Marl Member. Perhaps someone can help me out with the identification? These images show the boulders at the foot of the cliff adjacent to the landslip or mud slide. In contrast to the dark boulders at the water’s edge shown in the previous post, these are dry and therefore lighter in colour.
I wonder if these boulders could have been the inspiration for an artwork in the sculpture park in Tout Quarry on the Isle of Portland featured in an earlier post.
The shoreline at Charmouth looked particularly dramatic on this April visit as storm clouds periodically burst and blue skies were only intermittent. Charmouth Beach lies on the World Heritage Jurassic Coast in Dorset, England. The rocks are mainly Jurassic Period Charmouth Mudstone Formation. The character of the cliffs changes as you walk from west to east because the sedimentary rock layers gently slope and disappear beneath the beach surface level while new rock strata are freshly revealed at eye level. The predominance of softer rocks has led to a great deal of cliff slippage, and this means that the chronological sequence of the layers is frequently obscured by fallen debris; it makes it difficult to distinguish which rocks are which. The numerous rockfalls regularly contribute to the boulders on the beach and in this post I feature some boulders that exhibit some interesting fracture patterns. Of course these are not the only rock type on the beach, and I will post some more photographs of other patterns and textures in boulders and in the cliff face on the eastern half of Charmouth Beach in due course.
The alternating dark and light rock layers of the Belemnite Marls (belonging to the Lower Lias division of the Jurassic Period) at Seatown in Dorset, England, are riddled with small trace fossil burrows. These are mostly tunnels that were dug into the soft seabed sediments by marine organisms such as marine worms and crabs before the sediments became lithified or converted to hard stone. The patterns of these trace or ichno fossils in the cliffs show a wide range of sizes in the burrows with cross-section and longitudinal section views. Some of the tunnels are branched, some are u-shaped, and many are irregular. The shape and size of the burrows, and the particular location of the stratum in which they appear, provide clues to the identity of the creatures responsible. The burrows include Rhizocorallium, Thalassinoides, and Chondrites (Woods 2011). Most of the burrows shown in the photographs here are easy to see because of their contrasting colour – they have been excavated in layers of the darker sediment and have at a later stage been in-filled with the lighter coloured sediments from the layer above. The opposite can also happen, with burrows in lighter sediment being infilled with darker material from above, as seen in a couple of the pictures. Not all the trace fossils are burrows. Some traces appear to be a breaking up of the semi-solidified surface deposits with inter-mixing of sediment from the deposit above.
Woods, M. A. (compiler) (2011) Geology of south Dorset and south-east Devon and its World Heritage Coast: Special Memoir for 1:50,000 geological sheets 328 Dorchester, 341/342 West Fleet and Weymouth, and 342/343 Swanage, and parts of sheets 326/340 Sidmouth, 327 Bridport, 329 Bournemouth and 339 Newton Abbot. British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham. ISBN 978-085272654-9, pp 28-33.
The river flowing down to the seashore meets with waves from the sea at Charmouth in Dorset, England. This somewhat abstract image of the natural patterns generated from the meeting of the two forces shows the freshwater continuing to flow smoothly seawards on the left of the channel (top left) while on the right it rebounds from the curving bank with the ripples moving upstream and towards the middle of the channel. The blue and white are reflected sky, and the yellow is reflection from the shingle beach.
The most common fossils at Seatown on the Dorset coast are belemnites. These are bullet-shaped internal hard parts of a type of extinct cephalopod (think cuttlefish, squid and octopus). For a great deal of the length of the beach, the rock strata are hidden by debris falling down from layers above. There are lots of minor mudslides and landslips. However, as you get nearer to the western extremity of the beach, approaching Golden Cap, a continuous kerb-like, harder, and more calcareous stone layer makes an appearance. This is the Belemnite Stone that has been raised to view by a small anticlinal flexure. Below it are many layers of Belemnite Marl that can be seen in cross-section in the vertical face at the base of the cliff; and also extending out horizontally beneath the gravelly beach and exposed at low tide. They alternate light and dark layers. Fossils are abundant with belemnites predominating but ammonites are also common. The huge numbers of belemnites are thought to have resulted from mass die-offs following mating frenzies.
Mudslides are common on the cliffs between Lyme Regis and Eype in Dorset, England. On the western half of the beach at Seatown, the lower cliffs are composed of soft dark grey mudstones of the Green Ammonite Member, part of the Charmouth Mudstone Formation, dating from the early Jurassic period. The mudstones become more silty and sandy in the upper part of the exposure, and the top of the member is marked by the base of a micaceous sandstone known as the Three Tiers. Above this is the Dyrham Formation comprising mostly soft pale, dark or greenish grey sedimentary rocks some of which weather to brown or yellow colours (Woods 2011 pages 30 -34).
After heavy rain, water streams down the cliff face carving narrow valleys through the soft mudstone and sandstone strata, liquidising it, and causing flows of pale viscous mud that ooze over the bright orange pea gravel and pebbles on the shore. I stopped to photograph the interesting contrast of colour and texture as the two materials mixed, and it started to rain. The scattered drops pitted the mud surface and I moved in for a closer shot of the patterns. I then noticed that the mud showed shallow flow marks and very small tracks and trails. It was not until I returned home and examined the pictures that I discovered the small creatures that were actually making the trails. They were small amphipod Crustaceans, probably sandhoppers, that were bogged down and trying to break free. Presumably, they had been sheltering from exposure in the damp gravel while the tide was out and suddenly found themselves engulfed by the mud.
I found all this particularly interesting from a palaeontological point of view, or perhaps I should say an ichnological one. Trace fossils are often found in rocks and there is a constant quest to interpret marks that have become preserved in the stone, whether made by elemental conditions or by creatures. Observing events and phenomena in the present time helps in the understanding of the phenomena of the past. It is possible to imagine that the rain pits and sandhopper trails in this mudslide could themselves be preserved as future trace fossils. All that would be needed is some hot sun and drying wind, quickly followed by burial in a fresh deposit of liquid clay or mud or gravel.
Intriguingly, just a few hundred metres further along this west shore at Seatown, the rocks are absolutely riddled with millions of trace fossil burrows made by marine invertebrates like worms and crabs – but more about that later.
Just east of the outlet of the River Char on Charmouth beach, in the area close to Raffey’s Ledge, the upper shore is strewn with many large irregular stones. Amongst these, the most noticeable are those with white patterns and lines, which on closer inspection turn out to be crystalline calcite-filled cracks in the matrix of the rock. I have been looking at these strange stones over the years and wondering what they were (see the earlier post Pebbles with white lines on Charmouth beach). Now I think I have the answer. They are the worn remnants of the inner cores of Birchi Nodules. Birchi Nodules appear high in the cliff above this section of shore and have a complex structure resulting from a series of processes in the sediments that took place millions of years ago before the sediments compacted into rock. The large ovoid or discoid Birchi Nodules can be seen scattered along a line below the more continuous stratified rocky Birchi Tabular Bed at the top of the cliff. The rest of the cliff below is mostly composed of darker thinly-bedded shales.
These remnants of the inner cores of Birchi Nodules are also a kind of septarian nodule. The stones illustrated here from Charmouth are partial remains that have been worn smooth by rolling around on the beach for a long time. Further east along the coast at Ringstead I have seen complete septarian nodules that have freshly fallen from the cliff face of a different type of rock formation (Septarian Nodules at Ringstead).
[I found out about Birchi Nodules from the most excellent on-line resource for the geology of the Dorset Coast written by Ian West. This is a veritable cornucopia of information but requires that you continuously scroll down the page to locate the items in which you are interested. It is well worth the effort if you really want to find out the information.]