Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pumpelly's Rule

After a post the other day, Michael wrote in to ask for clarification of "Pumpelly's Rule."

AGI defines Pumpelly's Rule thusly*: "The generalization that the axes and axial surfaces of minor folds of an area are congruent with those of the major fold structures of the same phase of deformation."

We saw some of this same idea expressed in yesterday's annotated photo series featuring parasitic folds on larger folded (and boudinaged) quartz veins. There were bigger folds there, and then those bigger folds were decorated with little parasitic folds. The idea behind Pumpelly's Rule is that you could get a sense of what the big folds are doing by looking at the little folds. But even more revealing than parasitic folds at the hinge area of a larger fold are the little folds that you sometimes see on the limbs of bigger folds.

Depending on the sense of the asymmetry of these folds, we call them either "S" or "Z" folds. The parasitic folds are more symmetrical towards the apex of the fold, but more asymmetrial along the limbs. Check out this diagram to see how small S-folds and Z-folds relate to the larger structure of the main fold. Blue arrows indicate the relative sense of shear on each limb of the main fold:

Pumpelly's Rule suggests that we don't need to see the whole picture to understand what's going on. Simply seeing the areas of the diagram highlighted in red are enough to give a sense of the bigger picture.

So how does that relate to this photo, which prompted the question?

Behind me in the photo, you can see an outcrop of the Cretaceous-aged Thermopolis Shale, exposed on Bridger Canyon Road, in the southern part of the Bridger Range, Montana. It has some sandstone layers in it. These sandstone layers, with their high color contrast against the surrounding black shale, record a series of lovely S-folds. The strata here dip moderately to the west. The S-folds relate the sense of shear on the larger structure of the Bridgers: they suggest that the bedding here is overturned, and that you're looking at the eastern side of a big north-south-striking anticline. In the southern Bridgers, therefore, the overall structure is an overturned anticline. Hiking west & uphill confirms this interpretation stratigraphically: as you go up, you go "back in time," encountering older and older strata: from the Thermopolis into the Kootenai, into Jurassic formations like the Morrison, the Swift, and the Rierdon.


Moral of the story: small observations can have large implications.

Raphael Pumpelly made this observation in 1894, presumably during his tenure as the head of the USGS New England Branch. Pumpelly sounds like he was an interesting guy, leading expeditions in Asia when that was a seriously sketchy prospect. In addition to his Rule, he is honored with a mineral named after him, pumpellyite.

* If you don't have a copy of AGI's Dictionary of Geological Terms, a good resource for looking things up online is this Dictionary of Mining, Mineral, and Related Terms sponsored by Hacettepe University in Turkey.

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Anonymous Michael said...

Aha - so that's Pumpelly's rule!

I think we're in a kind of cross-cultural nomenclatural semantic disconformity here. We Brits are also aware of this principle, and continue to apply it enthusiastically, but, presumably for island-bound nationalistic reasons, we're not inclined to call it "Pumpelly's Rule."

But then again, my mind is disrupted by increasing numbers of disconformities these days - it's a long time since I taught structure courses in the US and I still don't remember invoking Pumpelly's name - doesn't mean I didn't, though!

August 22, 2009 6:01 AM  

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