Greensand is an olive-green coloured sandstone rock which is commonly found in narrow bands, particularly associated with bands of chalk and clay worldwide; it has been deposited in marine environments at various times during Earth history, such as during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Formation and locations

Greensand forms in anoxic marine environments that are rich in organic detritus and low in sedimentary input. Greensands are occasionally fossil-rich, such as in the late Cretaceous deposits of New Jersey. Important exposures are known from both northern and western Europe and North America.

Great Britain

In Great Britain, Greensand usually refers to a specific geologic formation of Lower Cretaceous age. A distinction is made between Upper Greensand and Lower Greensand; the term Greensand was originally applied by William Smith to glauconitic sandstones in the west of England and subsequently used for the similar deposits of the Weald, before it was appreciated that the latter are actually two distinct formations separated by the Gault Clay.

Both Upper and Lower Greensand outcrops appear in the scarp slopes surrounding the London Basin and the Weald. Prominent seams are to be found in the Vale of White Horse, in Bedfordshire, in Kent, Surrey, the South Downs National Park and Hampshire and the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.

The soil of the greensand is quite varied, ranging from fertile to fairly sterile. On the fertile soils chestnut and stands of hazel and oak are common, while Scots Pine and Birch colonise the poorer soils. These Greensand Ridges are popular long distance walking routes, for instance the Greensand Way in Kent.

Lower Greensand

The Lower Greensand (known as the Woburn Sand north of the London Basin) is of Aptian age. In the Weald the Lower Greensand consists of four deposits which are partly diachronous: the Atherfield Clay 15-50 ft thick, the Folkestone Beds 60-250 ft thick; the Hythe beds 60-350 ft thick and the Sandgate Beds 5-120 ft thick. Although it appears both north and south of the London Basin it is not present everywhere beneath the chalk which underlies the basin; the Gault lies directly on eroded Jurassic or Devonian rocks under much of the area.

Upper Greensand

The Upper Greensand is of Albian age. It is classed as part of the Gault Formation, representing a sandy facies deposited in areas of stronger currents than the Gault Clay. Like the Lower Greensand it is not present beneath the whole of the London Basin, apparently passing laterally into Gault clay east of a line between Dunstable and Tatsfield and of uncertain extent to the east of London.

Outcrops of the Upper Greensand occur in the south-west of England including the Blackdown Hills and East Devon Plateau and the Haldon Hills, remnants of a once much wider extent.

Properties and uses

The green colour of greensand is due to variable amounts of the mineral glauconite, an iron potassium silicate with very low weathering resistance; as a result, greensand tends to be weak and friable. It is a common ingredient in garden fertilisers, such as in organic gardening and organic farming. Due to its chemical exchange properties, the glauconite of greensand is used as a water softener. Greensand coated with manganese oxide, known as manganese greensand, is used in well water treatment systems to remove insoluble ferric (oxidized) iron and manganese. It is also used as a type of rock for stone walls in areas where greensand is common.

In Roman times coarse grits derived from the lower greensand were used to line the inner surface of mortaria (grinding bowls) produced in the Oxfordshire pottery kilns.


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