Priabonian, late Eocene chronostratigraphy, depositional environment, and paleosol-trace fossil associations, Pipestone Springs, southwest Montana, USA

Ischyromys articulated skeleton from late Eocene strata, Pipestone locality, southwest Montana.

Finally – the work done by myself and my co-authors, Don Lofgren, Steve Hasiotis, and Bill McIntosh, is published in the new issue of Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 67 (1): 5–20. Our work combines chronostratigraphy with depositional environment interpretations and paleosol-trace fossil associations for a new view of a well-known Eocene vertebrate locality in southwest Montana. We had fun and learned much from integrating various aspects of Pipestone’s Eocene geology, vertebrate paleontology, ichnofossils, and radioisotopic age constraints to better understand this amazing locality.

Here’s the abstract:

Sanidine 40Ar/39Ar ages of lapilli tuffs and the mammalian fauna of Pipestone Springs strata provide a high-resolution chronostratigraphy for upper Eocene (Priabonian) rock units in southwestern Montana. Two felsic lapilli tuffs with weighted-mean 40Ar/39Ar single crystal sanidine ages of 37.50±0.02 Ma and 36.00±0.20 Ma both fall within the
Priabonian, late Eocene. These tuffs occur within the basal to upper part of the 55 m of exposed Pipestone Springs strata. The uppermost 15 m yield a diverse and abundant assemblage of mostly small-bodied middle Chadronian (Priabonian, late Eocene) mammals. The older lapilli tuff is an ashfall tuff, whereas the younger lapilli tuff exhibits minor aeolian reworking. The new 40Ar/39Ar age constraints significantly increase the age range of Pipestone Springs strata to include uppermost Duchesnean–lowermost Chadronian (Priabonian, upper Eocene) deposits in addition to its well-known middle
Chadronian vertebrate assemblage. These new 40Ar/39Ar ages combined with its mammalian fauna further support Pipestone Springs strata as age-correlative to the Flagstaff Rim section in central Wyoming, and provide a basis for better determining late Eocene mammalian paleogeography and regional paleolandscapes in the United States Rocky Mountain to Great Plains areas. Loessites intercalated with paleosols dominate Pipestone Springs deposits. The recognition of loessites comprising these strata is a new depositional interpretation of Pipestone Springs strata, making these loessites some of the oldest known aeolian Eocene strata in the Great Plains–Rocky Mountains region. Pipestone Springs paleosols developed on lapilli tuffs are vertisols. Alfisols and inceptisols, developed from a parent material of volcanic glass mixed
with non-volcanic grains, are the remaining paleosols within the loessite strata. Additionally, a new and important discovery in this project is the recognition that all paleosols are extensively bioturbated, containing trace fossils similar to Rebuffoichnus and newly identified trace fossils resembling Feoichnus, Eatonichnus, Fictovichnus, and Coprinisphaera.

Link to publication pdf: Pipestone_hanneman and others

Tertiary geology and paleontology of the central Gravelly Range – a project update

The 2017 field crew working at Lazyman Hill. The strata are late Eocene (probably 34-36 million years in age) tufa deposits.

It’s time for our yearly update talk on field work and data compilation for the Tertiary geology and paleontology of the central Gravelly Range project in southwestern Montana. The Madison Ranger District in Ennis, Montana (5 Forest Service Road) will be hosting my talk on Monday, April 2nd at 10am in the Madison Ranger District conference room. We have a project permit from the US Forest Service because our project area lies within the Madison Ranger District – and the USFS District people have been really helpful with our project logistics. Thus, this is the perfect way to let them know what we did this past field season and how the whole project is coming together. The Madison District just sent their public announcement for the talk:

Dr. Hanneman and Dr. Don Lofgren, PhD (Director, Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, Claremont, CA 91711) and their team have been executing a multiyear study in the Gravelly Range near Black Butte resulting in many interesting paleontological findings right here in our own back yard.  Please join Dr. Hanneman and the Madison Ranger District for an update on this project and what they hope to unearth this year!

It’s a very intriguing project on high-elevation, mainly Eocene-Oligocene Tertiary geology and paleontology (mostly vertebrate and floral). So – anyone with an interest in this and who is in the geographic area, is welcome at the talk!

Tertiary Geology and Paleontology in the Gravelly Range, Southwestern Montana

Lion Mountain in the Gravelly Range of southwestern Montana. This area is federal land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

A part of my recent geological field work includes working on high elevation Tertiary strata in the Gravelly Range, southwestern Montana. The Gravelly Range is located in southwest Montana, about 10 miles southwest of Ennis, Montana. For some background on this area and what my field work is about, see an older blog that I posted at Geopostings.

So – now that one field season is done and field data compiled, both my co-worker, Don Lofgren and myself have interpreted some of our data. We recently outlined our work at the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) Rocky Mountain section meeting in Calgary. Alberta. The abstract from our session is given below as well as the poster itself in both a jpeg format and as a link to our  GSA presentation.

“Tertiary strata exposed in four high elevation areas in the south-central
Gravelly Range yield significant assemblages of Late Eocene to Oligocene
mammals. The thickest stratigraphic sections of Tertiary strata are in the
Lion Mountain-Black Butte area. The Lion Mountain section age is based
primarily on American Museum of Natural History collections; the lower
part of this section is Duchesnean-Chadronian (39-33 Ma) and the
uppermost beds are Whitneyan (32-31 Ma). Age of the basal part of the
Black Butte section is Duchesnean-Chadronian based on Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology collections. Recent collections that include Miohippus indicate a probable Orellan age for uppermost exposures. The Tepee Mountain section is notable for abundant brontothere remains and is probably Duchesnean-Chadronian (approx. 39-33 Ma). The Rapamys site is the oldest vertebrate locality and is late Uintan to early Duchesnean (42-38 Ma) based on recently recovered specimens of RapamysProtoreodon, and Lycophocyon.

The Tertiary strata in this part of the Gravelly Range include fluvial, aeolian, and tufa deposits that are most likely mainly associated with localized Oligocene volcanism. The Lion Mountain section is about 270 meters in thickness; the lower half of the section is largely aeolian, with fluvial units comprising much of the upper section. Based upon age data, the 140 meter Black Butte section correlates to the lower 50-70 meters of the Lion Mountain section. The basal 20 meters of the Black Butte section contain some fluvial features, but much of the remaining section is largely aeolian in origin. Paleosols and extensive burrowing also occur within the Black Butte section. Stratigraphic section thickness decreases rapidly away from the Black Butte-Lion Mountain area, with section thicknesses of about 20 meters for the largely aeolian Rapamys and Tepee Mountain sections. Tufa deposits are located along the west-central edge of the Gravelly Range where they are associated with previously mapped thrust faults. Leaf imprint assemblages of Eocene-Miocene age are contained within these tufas. Strata previously mapped as Upper Cretaceous-Paleocene Beaverhead Formation are now variously reassigned to the lower Cretaceous Kootenai Formation, southwestern Montana Cenozoic Sequence 2, and diverse Quaternary units.” From: Abstract from Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 49, No. 5 doi: 10.1130/abs/2017RM-293156.

The poster presented at the 2017 Rocky Mountain GSA is available below as a jpeg and at GSA as a pdf.

Cenozoic Sequence Stratigraphy of Southwestern Montana

Much of my research has been focused on Cenozoic sequence stratigraphy of continental basin-fill in southwestern Montana. This approach to the stratigraphy of continental deposits has facilitated correlation of stratigraphic units both within and among the various basins of this area. I recently gave a talk about my work in this area at Montana Tech of the University of Montana. Here’s the You Tube version of my talk: