is a volume of sedimentary rock
in which a mineral
cement fills the porosity (i.e. the spaces between the sediment grains). Concretions are often ovoid or spherical in shape, although irregular shapes also occur. The word 'concretion' is derived from the Latin con
meaning 'together' and cresco
meaning 'to grow'. Concretions form within layers of sedimentary strata
that have already been deposited. They usually form early in the burial history of the sediment, before the rest of the sediment is hardened into rock. This concretionary cement often makes the concretion harder and more resistant to weathering
than the host stratum
Descriptions dating from the 18th century attest to the fact that concretions have long been regarded as geological curiosities. Because of the variety of unusual shapes, sizes and compositions, concretions have been interpreted to be dinosaur eggs, animal and plant fossils (called pseudofossils), extraterrestrial debris or human artifacts.
Detailed studies (i.e., Boles et al., 1985; Thyne and Boles, 1989; Scotchman, 1991; Mozley and Burns, 1993; McBride et al., 2003; Chan et al., 2005; Mozley and Davis, 2005) published in peer-reviewed journals, have demonstrated that they form subsequent to burial during diagenesis. They quite often form by the precipitation of a considerable amount of cementing material around a nucleus, often organic, such as a leaf, tooth, piece of shell or fossil. For this reason, fossil collectors commonly break open concretions in their search for fossil animal and plant specimens. One of the most unusual concretion nuclei, as documented by Al-Agha et al. (1995), are World War II military shells, bombs, and shrapnel, which are found inside siderite concretions found in an English coastal salt marsh.
Depending on the environmental conditions present at the time of their formation, concretions can be created by either concentric or pervasive growth (Mozley, 1996; Raiswell and Fisher, 2000). In concentric growth, the concretion grows as successive layers of mineral accrete to its surface. This process results in the radius of the concretion growing with time. In case of pervasive growth, cementation of the host sediments, by infilling of its pore space by precipitated minerals, occurs simultaneously throughout the volume of the area, which in time becomes a concretion.
Concretions vary in shape, hardness and size, ranging from objects that require a magnifying lens to be clearly visible to huge bodies three meters in diameter and weighing several thousand pounds. The giant, red concretions occurring in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in North Dakota, are almost 3 m (10 ft) in diameter. Spheroidal concretions, as large as 9 m (30 ft) in diameter, have been found eroding out of the Qasr El Sagha Formation within the Faiyum depression of Egypt. Concretions are usually similar in color to the rock in which they are found. Concretions occur in a wide variety of shapes, including spheres, disks, tubes, and grape-like or soap bubble-like aggregates.
They are commonly composed of a carbonate
mineral such as calcite
; an amorphous or microcrystalline form of silica
such as chert
, or jasper
; or an iron oxide or hydroxide such as goethite
. They can also be composed of other minerals that include dolomite
Although concretions often consist of a single dominant mineral, other minerals can be present depending on the environmental conditions which created them. For example, carbonate concretions, which form in response to the reduction of sulfates by bacteria, often contain minor, percentages of pyrite. Other concretions, which formed as a result of microbial sulfate reduction, consist of a mixture of calcite, barite, and pyrite.
Concretions are found in a variety of rocks, but are particularly common in shales, siltstones, and sandstones. They often outwardly resemble fossils or rocks that look as if they do not belong to the stratum in which they were found. Occasionally, concretions contain a fossil, either as its nucleus or as a component that was incorporated during its growth but concretions are not fossils themselves. They appear in nodular patches, concentrated along bedding planes, protruding from weathered cliffsides, randomly distributed over mudhills or perched on soft pedestals.
Small hematite concretions ("blueberries") have been observed on Mars. See Martian spherules.
Types of concretions
Some of the names of concretions are septarian concretions, cannonball concretions, Moqui (Moki) marbles, and pop rocks.
Septarian concretions or septarian nodules
, are concretions containing angular cavities or cracks, which are called "septaria
". The word comes from the Latin
; "partition", and refers to the cracks/separations in this kind of rock
There is an incorrect explanation that it comes from the Latin word for "seven", septem
, referring to the number of cracks that commonly occur.
The process which created the septaria, which characterize septarian concretions, remains a mystery. A number of mechanisms, i.e. the dehydration of clay-rich, gel-rich, or organic-rich cores; shrinkage of the concretion's center; expansion of gases produced by the decay of organic matter; brittle fracturing of the concentration by either earthquakes or compaction; and others, have been proposed for the formation of septaria. At this time, it is uncertain, which, if any, of these and other proposed mechanisms is responsible for the formation of septaria in septarian concretions (McBride et al. 2003). Septaria usually contain crystals precipitated from circulating solutions, usually of calcite. Siderite or pyrite coatings are also occasionally observed on the wall of the cavities present in the septaria, giving rise respectively to a panoply of bright reddish and golden colors. Some septaria may also contain small calcite stalagtites and well-shaped millimetric pyrite single crystals.
A spectacular example of septarian concretions, which are as much as 3 meters (9 ft) in diameter, is the Moeraki Boulders. These concretions are found eroding out of Paleocene mudstone of the Moeraki Formation exposed along the coast near Moeraki, South Island, New Zealand. They are composed of calcite-cemented mud with septarian veins of calcite and rare late-stage quartz and ferrous dolomite (Boles et al. 1985, Thyne and Boles 1989). Very similar concretions, which are as much as 3 meter (9 ft) in diameter and called "Koutu Boulders", litter the beach between Koutu and Kauwhare points along the south shore of the Hokianga Harbour of Hokianga, North Island, New Zealand. The much smaller septarian concretions found in the Kimmeridge Clay exposed in cliffs along the Wessex Coast of England are more typical examples of septarian concretions (Scotchman 1991).
Cannonball concretions are large spherical concretions, which resemble cannonballs. These are found along the Cannonball River
within Morton and Sioux Counties, North Dakota
, and can reach 3 m (10 ft) in diameter. They were created by early cementation of sand and silt by calcite
. Similar cannonball concretions, which are as much as 4 to 6 m (12 to 18 feet) in diameter, are found associated with sandstone outcrops of the Frontier Formation in northeast Utah
and central Wyoming
. They formed by the early cementation of sand by calcite (McBride et al.
2003). Somewhat weathered and eroded giant cannonball concretions, as large as 6 meters (18 ft) in diameter, occur in abundance at "Rock City
" in Ottawa County, Kansas
. The Moeraki
and Koutu boulders of New Zealand are example of septarian concretions, which are also cannonball concretions. Large spherical rocks, which are found on the shore of Lake Huron
near Kettle Point, Ontario
, and locally known as "kettles", are typical cannonball concretions. Cannonball concretions have also been reported from Van Mijenfjorden, Spitsbergen
; near Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, Canada
; Jameson Land, East Greenland
; near Mecevici, Ozimici, and Zavidovici in Bosnia-Herzegovina; and many other places. Reports of cannonball concretions have also come from Bandeng and Zhanlong hills near Gongxi Town, Hunan Province, China
Elongate concretions form parallel to sedimentary strata and have been studied extensively due to the inferred influence of phreatic (saturated) zone groundwater flow direction on the orientation of the axis of elongation (e.g., Johnson, 1989; McBride et al., 1994; Mozley and Goodwin, 1995; Mozley and Davis, 2005). In addition to providing information about the orientation of past fluid flow in the host rock, elongate concretions can provide insight into local permeability trends (i.e., permeability correlation structure; Mozley and Davis, 1996), variation in groundwater velocity (Davis, 1999), and the types of geological features that influence flow.
Moqui Marbles also called Moqui balls
, and "Moki marbles", are iron oxide concretions, which can found eroding in great abundance out of outcrops of the Navajo Sandstone
within south-central and southeastern Utah. These concretions range in shape from spheres to discs, buttons, spiked balls, cylindrical forms, and other odd shapes. They range from pea-size to baseball-size. They were created by the precipitation of iron, which was dissolved in groundwater. These concretions are argued to be a terrestrial analogue of the Martian hematite spherules, called "blueberries" (Chan and Parry 2002, Chan et al.
Kansas Pop rocks
Kansas Pop rocks are concretions of either iron sulfide, i.e. pyrite
, or in some cases jarosite
, which are found in outcrops of the Smoky Hill Chalk Member of the Niobrara Formation within Gove County, Kansas
. They are typically associated with thin layers of altered volcanic ash, called bentonite
, which occur within the chalk
comprising the Smoky Hill Chalk Member. A few of these concretions enclose, at least in part, large flattened valves of inoceramid bivalves
. These concretions range in size from a few millimeters to as much as 0.7 m (2.3 ft) in length and 12 cm (0.4 ft) in thickness. Most of these concretions are oblate spheroids shape. Other "pop rocks" are small polycuboidal pyrite concretions, which are as much as 7 cm (0.23 ft) in diameter (Hattin 1982). These concretions are called "pop rocks" because they explode if thrown in a fire. Also, when they are either cut or hammered, they produce sparks and a burning sulfur smell. Contrary to what has published on the Internet, none of the iron sulfide concretions, which are found in the Smoky Hill Chalk Member, were created by either the replacement of fossils or by metamorphic processes. In fact, metamorphic rocks
are completely absent from the Smoky Hill Chalk Member (Hattin 1982). Instead, all of these the iron sulfide concretions were created by the precipitation of iron sulfides within anoxic marine calcareous ooze
after it had accumulated and before it had lithified into chalk.
Iron sulfide concretions, such as the Kansas Pop rocks, consisting of either pyrite and marcasite, are nonmagnetic (Hobbs and Hafner 1999). On the other hand, iron sulfide concretions, which either are composed of or contain either pyrrhotite or symthite, will be magnetic to varying degrees (Hoffmann, 1993). Prolonged heating of either a pyrite or marcasite concretion will convert portions of either mineral into pyrrhotite causing the concretion to become slightly magnetic.
- Al-Agha, M.R., S.D. Burley, C.D. Curtis, and J. Esson, 1995, Complex cementation textures and authigenic mineral assemblages in Recent concretions from the Linconshire Wash (east coast, UK) driven by Fe(0) Fe(II) oxidation: Journal of the Geological Society, London, v. 152, pp. 157-171.
- Boles, J.R., C.A. Landis, and P. Dale, 1985, The Moeraki Boulders; anatomy of some septarian concretions:, Journal of Sedimentary Petrology. v. 55, n. 3, pp. 398-406.
- Chan, M.A. and W.T. Parry, 2002, 'Mysteries of Sandstone Colors and Concretions in Colorado Plateau Canyon Country PDF version, 468 KB : Utah Geological Survey Public Information Series. n. 77, pp. 1-19.
- Chan, M.A., B.B. Beitler, W.T. Parry, J. Ormo, and G. Komatsu, 2005. Red Rock and Red Planet Diagenesis: Comparison of Earth and Mars Concretions PDF version, 3.4 MB : GSA Today, v. 15, n. 8, pp. 4-10.
- Davis, J.M., 1999, Oriented carbonate concretions in a paleoaquifer: Insights into geologic controls on fluid flow: Water Resources Research, v. 35, p. 1705-1712.
- Hattin, D.E., 1982, Stratigraphy and depositional environment of the Smoky Hill Chalk Member, Niobrara Chalk (Upper Cretaceous) of the type area, western Kansas: Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 225:1-108.
- Hobbs, D., and J. Hafnaer, 1999, Magnetism and magneto-structural effects in transition-metal sulphides: Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter, v. 11, pp. 8197-8222.
- Hoffmann, V., H. Stanjek, and E. Murad, 1993, Mineralogical, magnetic and mössbauer data of symthite (Fe9S11) : Studia Geophysica et Geodaetica, v. 37, pp. 366-381.
- Johnson, M.R., 1989, Paleogeographic significance of oriented calcareous concretions in the Triassic Katberg Formation, South Africa: Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, v. 59, p. 1008-1010.
- McBride, E.F., M.D. Picard, and R.L. Folk, 1994, Oriented concretions, Ionian Coast, Italy: evidence of groundwater flow direction: Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. 64, p. 535-540.
- McBride, E.F., M.D. Picard, and K.L. Milliken, 2003, Calcite-Cemented Concretions in Cretaceous Sandstone, Wyoming and Utah, U.S.A.: Journal of Sedimentary Research. v. 73, n. 3, p. 462-483.
- Mozley, P.S., 1996, The internal structure of carbonate concretions: A critical evaluation of the concentric model of concretion growth: Sedimentary Geology: v. 103, p. 85-91.
- Mozley, P.S., and Goodwin, L., 1995, Patterns of cementation along a Cenozoic normal fault: A record of paleoflow orientations: Geology: v. 23, p 539-542.
- Mozley, P.S., and Burns, S.J., 1993, ''Oxygen and carbon isotopic composition of marine carbonate concretions: an overview: Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, v. 63, p. 73-83.
- Mozley, P.S., and Davis, J.M., 2005, Internal structure and mode of growth of elongate calcite concretions: Evidence for small-scale microbially induced, chemical heterogeneity in groundwater: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 117, 1400-1412.
- Raiswell, R., and Q.J. Fisher, 2000, Mudrock-hosted carbonate concretions: a review of growth mechanisms and their influence on chemical and isotopic composition: Journal of Geological Society of London. v. 157, p. 239-251
- Scotchman, I.C., 1991, The geochemistry of concretions from the Kimmeridge Clay Formation of southern and eastern England: Sedimentology. v. 38, pp. 79-106.
- Thyne, G.D., and J.R. Boles, 1989, Isotopic evidence for origin of the Moeraki septarian concretions, New Zealand: Journal of Sedimentary Petrology. v. 59, n. 2, pp. 272-279.
- Dietrich, R.V., 2002, Carbonate Concretions--A Bibliography
- Biek, B., 2002, Concretions and Nodules in North Dakota North Dakota Geological Survey, Bismark, North Dakota.
- Epoch Times Staff, 2007, Mysterious Huge Stone Eggs Discovered in Hunan Province Epoch Times International. Photographs of large cannonball concretions recently found in Hunan Province, China.
- Everhart, M., 2004, A Field Guide to Fossils of the Smoky Hill ChalkPart 5: Coprolites, Pearls, Fossilized Wood and other Remains Part of the Oceans of Kansas web site.
- Hansen, M.C., 1994, Ohio Shale Concretions PDF version, 270 KB Ohio Division of Geological Survey GeoFacts n. 4, pp. 1-2.
- Hanson, W.D., and J.M. Howard, 2005, Spherical Boulders in North-Central Arkansas PDF version, 2.8 MB Arkansas Geological Commission Miscellaneous Publication n. 22, pp. 1-23.
- Heinrich, P.V., 2007, The Giant Concretions of Rock City Kansas PDF version, 836 KB BackBender's Gazette. vol. 38, no. 8, pp. 6-12.
- Hokianga Tourism Association, nd, Koutu boulders Really nice pictures of cannonball concretions.
- Irna, 2006, All that nature can never do, part IV : stone spheres
- Irna, 2007a, Stone balls : in France too!
- Irna, 2007b, Stone balls in Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland
- Katz, B., 1998, Concretions Digital West Media, Inc.
- McCollum, A., nd, Sand Concretions from Imperial Valley, a collection of articles maintained by an American artist.
- Mozley, P.S., Concretions, bombs, and groundwater, on-line version of an overview paper originally published by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.
- United States Geological Survey, nd, cannonball concretion
- University of Utah, 2004, Earth Has 'Blueberries' Like Mars 'Moqui Marbles' Formed in Groundwater in Utah's National Parks press release about iron oxide and Martian concretions