Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Geological State Symbols Across the US - #1 Alabama

Our first state alphabetically is Alabama. Here are the stats:

                                                                    Year Established
State Rock: Marble                                         1969
State Mineral: Hematite                                 1967
State Gemstone: Star Blue Quartz                  1990
State Fossil: Basilosaurus cetoides                 1984

State Rock: Marble
Marble is a metamorphic rock that forms from limestone. It is mainly composed of calcite or dolomite but will often have other minerals as well (i.e. quartz, talc, forsterite, tremolite, etc.). It is often found to be primarily white with swirls of darker colors (black or brown) but can be almost any color of the rainbow depending on the impurities. The primary source of marble in Alabama is in Talladega County and it is referred to as the Sylacauga marble. This marble has been quarried and used in art and building stones throughout Alabama and the US.

State Mineral: Hematite
File:Vulcan statue Birmingham AL 2008 snow.jpgHematite is a mineral often referred to as rust. It is produced from the oxidation of iron and forms iron oxide in the form of Fe2O3. It is also one of the most common sources of iron ore and is often referred to as red iron ore. The hematite in Alabama was primarily mined from the Red Mountain Formation until 1975, where it became cheaper to import it. But at one time it was the states most developed non-fuel mineral industry, helping to build up Birmingham as an industrial center. In the 135 years hematite was mined, they produced ~375 million tons of ore. Birmingham is also known for the largest cast-iron structure ever made, the stature of Vulcan (picture right), produced entirely with Birmingham iron ore.


State Gemstone: Star Blue Quartz
star blue quartzQuartz is one of the most common minerals on Earth, primarily due to its simple structure and chemical formula, SiO2. Not to mention it is harder than most other common minerals. Quartz can come in almost any color, which is caused by impurities in the crystals, and has a variety of names including amethyst (purple quartz), smokey quartz (grey), etc. The special thing about Alabama's "Star blue quartz" is that it often contains little bits of amphibole (another type of mineral) and displays asterism (a star pattern in the light) when polished.

Although the state website claims that star blue quartz is common, it does not appear to be so. There are very few pictures of this specific variety of quartz, although blue quartz by itself is rather abundant.

State Fossil: Basilosaurus cetoides
Basilosaurus cetoides was a prehistoric whale that lived during the Cenozoic era, about 35 million Basilosaurus is a member of the whale family first discovered in Alabama in 1834. It was originally thought to be a swimming reptile but was later discovered that it was indeed a whale from the Eocene period. This whale also had hindlimbs that were mostly nonfunctional (it is theorized they could have been used during sex). The hindlimbs are likely a vestigial "organ" from the evolution of land animals to modern whales. Basilosaurus is most abundant in Alabama and has been found in Clarke, Choctaw, and Washington counties.




References
http://www.archives.state.al.us/emblems/emblems.html
http://www.sylacauga.net/library/sections/Sylacauga%20Marble%20Fiestival/Marble%20Fiestival%202010.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulcan_statue
http://geology.about.com/od/regional_geology/ig/stategems/stateblueqtz.htm
http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Multimedia.jsp?id=m-3931
http://wapedia.mobi/en/Basilosaurus

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