The Origin of a Layer of Subcircular Mudflakes in the Ross Sandstone Formation of County Clare, Ireland
Abstract:The west coast of Ireland in County Clare is famous for its Paleozoic stratigraphy containing spectacular exposures of deposits from carbonate shelf, deep marine, slope and deltaic environments, exposed at several distinctive and well-known locations including the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, and Bridges of Ross. Underlying the silty sandstones of the Gull Island Formation and overlying the Clare Shale, the Carboniferous Ross Sandstone Formation comprises a series of fine-grained sandstone and mudstone deep water turbidite deposits.
Approximately a half-kilometer northeast of the Bridges of Ross and about 15 meters below the upper boundary of the Ross Formation is a particular stratum exhibiting an assemblage of unique circular to ovoid impressions. These features densely cover an exposed horizontal surface of approximately 100 square meters, positioned about 5 meters above and adjacent to a cluster of sand volcanoes. The impressions frequently overlap and completely cover the exposed surface of the rock unit and continue along the same plane of the buried portion of the stratum. Diameters of the impressions range between 2 and 20 centimeters, and many contain clasts of pale grey shale or claystone material. Samples were collected from the layer of interest as well as from subjacent and superjacent strata, spanning a total thickness of just over 1 meter. Thin sections were created and analyzed to determine both composition and estimated porosity of the rock in a continuous vertical cross-section through the series of strata surrounding the impressions. Characteristics of each stratum were examined to explore possible depositional relationships of each layer to the others and to indicate likely diagenetic processes of the subcircular features. Two broad possible origins are discussed: a primary sedimentary origin, i.e. turbidite channel mudflake conglomerate; or a post-depositional soft sediment deformation origin due to either (i) sediment loading and dewatering, (ii) outgassing of methane, or (iii) earthquake tremor.