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´╗┐Title: Fossil Ice Crystals - An Instance of the Practical Value of "Pure Science"
Author: Udden, Johan August
Language: English
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  University of Texas Bulletin
  No. 1821: April 10, 1918

  _Fossil Ice Crystals_

  _An Instance of the Practical Value of "Pure Science"_

  [Illustration: university emblem]

  Bureau of Economic Geology and Technology
  Division of Economic Geology
  J. A. Udden, Director of the Bureau and Head of the Division

  Published by the University six times a month and entered as
  second-class matter at the postoffice at

Publications of the University of Texas

  Publications Committee:


The University publishes bulletins six times a month, so numbered that
the first two digits of the number show the year of issue; the last two
the position in the yearly series. (For example, No. 1701 is the first
bulletin of the year 1917.) These comprise the official publications of
the University, publications on humanistic and scientific subjects,
Municipal Research and Reference, and other bulletins of general
educational interest. With the exception of special numbers, any
bulletin will be sent to a citizen of Texas free on request. All
communications about University publications should be addressed to the
Chairman of the Publications Committee, University of Texas, Austin.

  University of Texas Bulletin
  No. 1821: April 10, 1918

  _Fossil Ice Crystals_

  _An Instance of the Practical Value of "Pure Science"_

  [Illustration: university emblem]

  Bureau of Economic Geology and Technology
  Division of Economic Geology
  J. A. Udden, Director of the Bureau and Head of the Division

  Published by the University six times a month and entered as
  second-class matter at the postoffice at

   The benefits of education and of useful knowledge, generally
   diffused through a community, are essential to the preservation
   of a free government.

                                                   Sam Houston

   Cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy.... It is the
   only dictator that freemen acknowledge and the only security that
   freemen desire.

                                                  Mirabeau B. Lamar




The practical value of the service of the geological profession is, with
every year, being more and more appreciated, especially among people who
are developing the mineral resources of our country. Nevertheless, we
still hear men who speak of geologists as theorists that render our
profitable industries but little assistance. It is true that much of the
work that geologists do has but a remote bearing on practical questions.
The fact is that in geology, as in other sciences, one can never know
when a purely scientific observation may turn out to have a practical
application. Paleontologists who study the minutest details of fossils
have been held up as impractical people, even though their science has
more than once proved to be of the greatest practical importance for the
finding of valuable natural deposits. Certainly those who have been most
prominent in the promotion of paleontology as a science have seldom, if
ever, had any economic motive in the pursuit of their work. I think the
same is true of our leading petrographers. I believe that the men who
have advanced the science of geology most, have seldom contributed much
to the practical application of the principles they have discovered.
Much scientific work naturally appears unprofitable or useless to the
uninitiated. I shall here relate a case that suggests how entirely wrong
it may be to regard as of no economic value any geologic fact, however
insignificant it may appear.

In the summer of 1890 I took occasion to make a trip to the Black Hills
in South Dakota in order to profit, as I could, by a few weeks' tramping
in this interesting region. Going one day in a southwest direction from
Minnekahta, to look for fossil cycads, I stumbled on a block of
sandstone with a rather smooth surface on which were some peculiar
markings, such as I had never seen figured or described. The rock was
evidently a block from the Dakota sandstone. Its smooth upper surface,
which represented a bedding plane, was covered with a thin coating of
silt or fine clay which adhered to the block. The markings were in this
clay. They were straight, shallow grooves from one-half to two inches in
length, and from one-sixteenth to one-eighth inch in width. They were
joined into patterns in which some sprang out from the sides of others
and again themselves sent out other branches. Some crossed each other. I
noticed that there was a quite uniform angle of divergence in these
branches, and I was able to make out that this usual angle was about
sixty degrees. I also noted that the grooves narrowed to sharp points.
Somehow, immediately I concluded that the cracks were the result of ice
crystals, and I at once saw the propriety of frozen water having existed
in an age during which deciduous trees began to appear. This was theory.
We have since that time learned to know that cold climates far antedate
the coming of the dicotyledons.

As I had no suitable photographic equipment, I took pains to make
accurate drawings of a part of the pattern as it appeared on the rock.
My original drawing is shown in Plate I. A brief description of these
markings was later furnished in the Scientific American, of February 19,

It took me some years to find any similar markings again. In the early
spring of 1903 I had occasion to make a visit to Mexico, when I spent a
half day in Ojinaga, which is a little village south of Presidio, in
Texas, on the Mexican side of the river. Some sidewalks in this little
village are built of flags of limestone belonging to the Eagle Ford
formation. To my great delight I found some of these slabs having
precisely the same kind of markings that I had noted on the sandstone in
Dakota. Naturally I attached some importance to the fact that the Eagle
Ford corresponds quite closely in age to that of the Dakota sandstone.
Both were made at about the beginning of the upper Cretaceous age. I
noticed here a considerable variation in the closeness of the patterns
of the markings. Occasionally they were found as separate single lines,
several inches removed from each other; and on other rocks they would
be found crossing in close networks. In the summer of 1904 I again found
my ice markings on a layer of arenaceous limestone in the same formation
in the Big Bend country in Texas. This time I collected some specimens
which were subsequently photographed. One of these photographs is shown
in Plate II. Again in 1906 I noticed the same markings on some thin
sandy flags which occur in the Del Rio clay near the city of Del Rio. In
this case the needle-like crystals were somewhat more slender than those
previously seen, and some were slightly curved and somewhat more
elongated. These of course interested me as showing the occurrence of
freezing temperatures no doubt at a somewhat earlier time than that
pertaining to my previous observations.

During all these years my residence was in Illinois, and I was naturally
watching for similar markings in recent mud, resulting from late and
early frosts. I found them in the fall of 1909. At this time some
excavations were being made in the loess in Rock Island, when some rains
fell in the late fall. These rains evidently happened to give the mud
the amount of moisture necessary for such crystals to develop, as the
ground froze. The rains had washed the loess extensively, and I found a
number of places where it lay redistributed, with a fairly smooth
surface. It was evident that the moisture content of the ground,
together with the temperature conditions, determined the size and the
closeness of the frozen patterns. In places the crystals were long and
slender, in others they were short and stout. At some points they were
straight and in others slightly curved. Here and there the patterns were
close enough to resemble the fine lines which we sometimes notice in the
hoarfrost on windowpanes. In other places the crystals occurred in
radiating groups, and elsewhere they would form scattered separate
units. For preserving a record of what I saw, I poured plaster over
several patterns and had these casts photographed, as appears in Plates
VIII, IX, X. Placing these side by side with the photographs of the
patterns I have photographed from the Eagle Ford, it appears to me that
no doubt can be left as to the origin of the markings found in the
fossil state.

Recently I have found that these ice crystal marks are quite common at
one horizon in the Eagle Ford beds of Brewster County, in Texas. There
is also a layer in which they can be usually seen in the vicinity of
Austin, Texas. This lies about twenty-five feet below the Austin Chalk,
near Austin. A like layer occurs about 100 feet below the Austin Chalk
in the Big Bend country. Here I have found the markings in localities
thirty miles apart. They occur at the north point of Mariscal Mountain
and in a number of places near the Fossil Knobs and on the Chisos Mining
Company property at Terlingua.

Unprofitable as observations on such a simple matter as this may seem, I
find that other geologists have given it some attention. Quite recently,
Dr. John M. Clarke[A] has figured slabs showing what has been described
as _Fucoides graphica_, by Hall. The markings figured by Professor
Clarke are undoubtedly of the same kind as those I have found in the
Eagle Ford. They occur in the Upper Devonian in New York. I also find
that the formation of ice crystals in wet mud has been observed in the
clays about Boston by Marbut and Woodworth.[B] Other observations of
similar recent markings are said to have been made by some English

To "practical people" it may indeed appear that no more unprofitable or
more idle curiosity could be indulged in, than making observations on
what kind of crystals are formed when water freezes in mud. I must
confess that my own first observations had no motive whatever, except
for the desire to know something new; and I never expected that anything
I could learn about these fossil marks would ever turn out to have any
practical application, at least not in my own work.

But it has turned out differently. For some time, I have been called
upon occasionally to advise with regard to the finding of the ore in one
of our quicksilver mines in West Texas. It is now a well established
fact that the distribution of the ore in this mine, and I believe in the
entire Terlingua district, bears a definite relation to geological
horizons. Successful mining requires search in these horizons. The
cinnabar, as it appears, has accumulated in greatest quantity under
impervious rocks such as shales and marls along planes that separate
these from underlying rocks of more open texture, mostly limestones. The
ore has clearly come from below and has risen through fissure planes,
which in some cases separate large blocks of the Cretaceous formations.
The best ore has been found under the basal part of the Boquillas flags,
and under the Del Rio clay in the upper part of the Georgetown
limestone. The workings must be so arranged in the mine that these
horizons can be entered on both sides of a fault fissure. The problem of
locating the depth of the desirable horizons in the mine in question
would be easy enough, if it were not for the fact that the outcropping
rocks consist of a series of sediments with few characteristic fossils.
Most of the fossils which occur extend through a range of several
hundred feet and the beds themselves are quite uniform in character,
consisting of alternating thin layers of impure limestones and marls. An
attempt was made to correlate the outcropping beds by close examination
of the layers exposed, but the result was not very satisfactory. A close
scrutiny made of each layer on the section resulted, however, in the
finding of two features that enabled me to measure the throw of the
fault under investigation. Interbedded in the Boquillas flags there are
some thin layers of bentonite, which are quite persistent and can be
followed for several miles. By comparing the distances between these
layers and by taking note of their individual thickness, it was possible
to make a correlation that seemed to be correct. But the proof sought
fell just short of being certain. In cases of this kind one always looks
for corroborating facts to check one's conclusions. I found this check
in the discovery of the layer which carries ice crystal markings in
these beds. The layer had a definite relation to the seams of bentonite,
and, with this additional evidence, I was confident there was no
possible chance of a mistake. It enabled me to locate not only the right
horizon but also a horizon in the underlying heavy Comanchean limestone,
which is water-bearing, and which must be avoided to prevent serious
injury to the underground operations. I need not add that the
information obtained was of real practical value in this case.


Plate I. Forms of frost cracks seen on the exposed flat bedding plane of
a block of Dakota sandstone in a ravine a few miles southwest of
Minnekahta, South Dakota. As sketched in the field. Natural size.

[Illustration: PLATE I]


Plate II. Photographs of fossil imprints of ice crystals on flags of the
Eagle Ford. The upper rock shown in the Plate is from the south side of
Cuesta Blanca in Brewster County, Texas, and shows casts of crystals
which represent fillings of sandy mud projecting slightly down into an
underlying bed of more argillaceous material. The lower part of the
figure shows a similarly marked flag from the same formation at a point
about five miles north of the old Boquillas postoffice near Tornillo
Creek, east of the Chisos Mountains, in Texas. Here are seen the
original grooves made by the ice on a layer of muddy material later
buried. Slightly reduced.

[Illustration: PLATE II]


Plate III. Photograph of fossil casts of a close tangle of ice crystals
seen in a stony calcareous layer in the Eagle Ford shale in Walnut
Creek, about eight miles north of Austin, Texas. This tangle is closer
than any of the recent ice crystal marks figured here, but equally
closely grown crystals have been seen by the writer on frozen mud in
Illinois. Natural size. Compare with Plate VIII.

[Illustration: PLATE III]


Plate IV. Photograph of fossil casts of ice crystals seen on some stony
flags in the upper part of the Eagle Ford at Fossil Knobs, about two
miles northwest of the Chisos Mine in Brewster County, Texas. These may
be characterized as relatively short and scattered. This shows ridges
projecting into the grooves formed by ice crystals on the surface of a
muddy layer originally underlying the layer photographed. Slightly

[Illustration: PLATE IV]


Plate V. Photograph of fossil casts of ice crystals seen on the under
side of flaggy layer of calcareous sandy rock in the upper part of the
Eagle Ford at Fossil Knobs, about two miles northwest from the Chisos
Mining Company's property, Brewster County, Texas. It will be seen that
some of the crystals are gently curved. Similar curving crystals are
also seen in the figures showing recent growths at Rock Island,
Illinois. Compare with Plate IX. Slightly reduced.

[Illustration: PLATE V]


Plate VI. Photograph of a thin flag of sandy limestone from the Eagle
Ford at Fossil Knobs in Brewster County, showing molds left by ice

[Illustration: PLATE VI]


Plate VII. Photographs of three fragments of flags showing casts of ice
crystals on the under side. All observations made on crystals of this
kind indicate local differences in the forms of ice crystals presumably
due to differences in the rate of freezing, in the texture of the mud
and probably in variations in water content of the mud. Some crystals in
the locality from which these specimens came, show pinnate secondary
growths. Specimens shown here are from near the upper part of the Eagle
Ford at a point about two miles north from the Chisos Mining Company's
property. Brewster County, Texas. Slightly reduced.

[Illustration: PLATE VII]


Plate VIII. Photograph of a cast made by pouring plaster over a surface
of mud in which ice crystals had recently formed, in Rock Island,
Illinois, after the ice in the crystals had been removed by slow natural
sublimation into the atmosphere, leaving open cracks in the mud. The
comb-like ridges on the plaster cast have the form of the ice crystals.
Compare with Plate III.

[Illustration: PLATE VIII]


Plate IX. Photograph of a cast made by pouring plaster over a surface of
mud in which ice crystals had formed, in Rock Island, Illinois, soon
after the ice in the crystals had been removed by slow natural
sublimation into the atmosphere, leaving open cracks in the mud. In the
locality where this cast was made, the crystals were relatively slender,
distant, and some gently curved, like those seen in Plate V. Slightly

[Illustration: PLATE IX]


Plate X. Photograph of a cast made by pouring plaster over a surface of
mud in which ice crystals had recently formed, in Rock Island, Ill., and
where they had later been removed by natural sublimations into the
atmosphere, leaving open cracks in the mud. It will be seen that the
crystal growth in this case involves an x-like or radiating pattern
formed of relatively very slender forms that almost everywhere are very
gently curved somewhat reminding of the slender thread-like crystals
sometimes seen in frost on windows. I have not yet seen any similar
fossil crystal growths as slender as these. Slightly reduced.

[Illustration: PLATE X]


[A] Strand and undertow markings, etc., New York State Museum, _Bulletin
No. 196, April 1, 1917_, pp. 199-210; pl. 20-23.

[B] Brick clays of Rhode Island, Massachusetts; Marbut and Woodworth,
_U.S. Geol. Survey, 17th Ann. Rep., Pt. 1_, p. 992.

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _underscore_.

Printer's inconsistencies in spelling and punctuation have been

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