Results of new petrologic and remote sensing studies in the Big Bend region

Stevan Christian Benker, University of Texas at El Paso


The initial section of this manuscript involves the South Rim Formation, a series of 32.2-32 Ma comenditic quartz trachytic-rhyolitic volcanics and associated intrusives, erupted and was emplaced in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Magmatic parameters have only been interpreted for one of the two diverse petrogenetic suites comprising this formation. Here, new mineralogic data for the South Rim Formation rocks are presented. Magmatic parameters interpreted from these data assist in deciphering lithospheric characteristics during the mid-Tertiary. Results indicate low temperatures (< 750 °C), reduced conditions (generally below the FMQ buffer), and low pressures (≤ 100 MPa) associated with South Rim Formation magmatism with slight conditional differences between the two suites. Newly discovered fayalite microphenocrysts allowed determination of oxygen fugacity values (between -0.14 and -0.25 ΔFMQ over temperature ranges of 680-700 °C), via mineral equilibria based QUILF95 calculations, for Emory Peak Suite. Petrologic information is correlated with structural evidence from Trans-Pecos Texas and adjacent regions to evaluate debated timing of tectonic transition (Laramide compression to Basin and Range extension) and onset of the southern Rio Grande Rift during the mid-Tertiary. The A-type and peralkaline characteristics of the South Rim Formation and other pre-31 Ma magmatism in Trans-Pecos Texas, in addition to evidence implying earlier Rio Grande Rift onset in Colorado and New Mexico, promotes a near-neutral to transtensional setting in Trans-Pecos Texas by 32 Ma. This idea sharply contrasts with interpretations of tectonic compression and arc-related magmatism until 31 Ma as suggested by some authors. However, evidence discussed cannot preclude a pre-36 Ma proposed by other authors. The later section of this manuscript involves research in the Big Bend area using Google Earth. At present there is high interest in using Google Earth in a variety of scientific investigations. However, program developers have disclosed limited information concerning the program and its accuracy. While some authors have attempted to independently constrain the accuracy of Google Earth, their results have potentially lost validity through time due to technological advances and updates to imagery archives. For this reason we attempt to constrain more current horizontal and vertical position accuracies for the Big Bend region of West Texas. In Google Earth a series of 268 data points were virtually traced along various early Tertiary unconformities in Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. These data points were compared with high precision GPS measurements collected in field and yielded a horizontal position accuracy of 2.64 meters RMSE. Complications arose in determining vertical position accuracy for Google Earth because default keyhole markup language (.kml) files currently do not export elevation data. This drawback forces users to hand record and manually input elevation values listed on screen. This is a significant handicap rendering Google Earth data useless with larger datasets. However, in a workaround solution exempted elevation values can be replaced from other data sources based on Google Earth horizontal positioning. We used Fledermaus 3D three-dimensional visualization software to drape Google Earth horizontal positions over a National Elevation Dataset (NED) digital elevation map (DEM) in order to adopt a large set of elevation data. A vertical position accuracy of 1.63 meters RMSE was determined between 268 Google Earth data points and the NED. Since determined accuracies were considerably lower than those reported in previous investigations, we devoted a later portion of this investigation to testing Google Earth-NED data in paleo-surface modeling of the Big Bend region. An 18 x 30 kilometer area in easternmost Big Ranch State Park was selected to create a post-Laramide paleo-surface model via interpolation of approximately 2900 Google Earth-NED data points representing sections of an early Tertiary unconformity. The area proved difficult to model as unconformity tracing and interpolation were often hindered by surface inflation due to regional magmatism, burial of Laramide topography by subsequent volcanism and sedimentation, and overprinting of Basin & Range extensional features masking Laramide compressional features. Despite these difficulties, a model was created illustrating paleo-topographic highs in the southeastern Bofecillos Mountains and at Lajitas Mesa. Based on the amount of surface relief depicted, inconsistency with subsequent normal faulting, and distance from magmatic features capable of surface doming or inflation, we believe the paleo-topographic highs modeled legitimately reflect the post-Laramide surface. We interpret the paleo-surface in this area as reflecting a post-Laramide surface that has experienced significant erosion. We attribute the paleo-topographic highs as Laramide topography that was more resistant. The model also implies a southern paleo-drainage direction for the area and suggests the present day topographic low through which the Rio Grande flows may have formed very soon after the Laramide Orogeny. Based on the newly calculated horizontal and vertical position accuracies for the Big Bend region and results of modeled Google Earth-NED data in easternmost Big Bend Ranch State Park, it seems Google Earth can be effectively utilized for remote sensing and geologic studies, however we urge caution as developers remain reluctant to disclose detailed program information to the public.

Subject Area

Geographic information science|Geology|Remote sensing

Recommended Citation

Benker, Stevan Christian, "Results of new petrologic and remote sensing studies in the Big Bend region" (2010). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3426840.