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Open-File Report 02-345

Composition of the Rex Chert and Associated Rocks of the Permian Phosphoria Formation: Soda Springs Area, SE Idaho

By James R. Hein, Brandie McIntyre, Robert B. Perkins, David Z. Piper, James Evans

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (1.4 MB)Abstract

This study, one in a series, reports bulk chemical and mineralogical compositions, as well as petrographic and outcrop descriptions of rocks collected from three measured outcrop sections of the Rex Chert member of the Phosphoria Formation in SE Idaho. The three measured sections were chosen from ten outcrops of Rex Chert that were described in the field. The Rex Chert overlies the Meade Peak Phosphatic Shale Member of the Phosphoria Formation, the source of phosphate ore in the region. Rex Chert removed as overburden comprises part of the material disposed in waste-rock piles during phosphate mining. It has been proposed that the chert be used to cap and isolate waste piles, thereby inhibiting the leaching of potentially toxic elements into the environment. It is also used to surface roads in the mining district. The rock samples studied here constitute a set of individual chert beds that are representative of each stratigraphic section sampled. The informally named cherty shale member that overlies the Rex Chert in measured section 1 was also described and sampled. The upper Meade Peak and the transition zone to the Rex Chert were described and sampled in section 7. The cherts are predominantly spicularite composed of granular and mosaic quartz, and sponge spicules, with various but minor amounts of other fossils and detrital grains. The cherty shale member and transition rocks between the Meade Peak and Rex Chert are siliceous siltstones and argillaceous cherts with ghosts of sponge spicules and somewhat more detrital grains than the chert. The overwhelmingly dominant mineral is quartz, although carbonate beds are rare in each section and are composed predominantly of calcite and dolomite in addition to quartz. Feldspar, mica, clay minerals, calcite, dolomite, and carbonate fluorapatite are minor to trace minerals in the chert.

The mean concentrations of oxides and elements in the Rex Chert and the cherty shale member are dominated by SiO2, which averages 94.6%. Organic-carbon contents are generally very low in the chert, but are up to 1.8 wt. % in cherty shale member samples and up to 3.3% in samples from the transition between the Meade Peak and Rex Chert. Likewise, phosphate (P2O5) is generally low in the chert, but can be up to 3.1% in individual beds. Selenium concentrations in Rex Chert and cherty shale member samples vary from <0.2 to 138 ppm, with a mean concentration of 7.0 ppm. This mean Se content is heavily dependent on two values of 101 and 138 ppm for rocks from the transition zone between the Meade Peak and Rex Chert. Without those two samples, the mean Se concentration would be <1.0 ppm. Other elements of environmental interest, As, Cr, V, Zn, Hg, and Cd, are generally near or below their content in average continental shale. Stratigraphic changes (equivalent to temporal changes in the depositional basin) in chemical composition of rocks are notable either as uniform changes through the sections or as distinct differences in the mean composition of rocks that compose the upper and lower halves of the sections.

Q-mode factors are interpreted to represent the following rock and mineral components: chert-silica component consisting of Si (± Ba); phosphorite-phosphate component composed of P, Ca, As, Y, V, Cr, Sr, and La (± Fe, Zn, Cu, Ni, Li, Se, Nd, Hg); shale component composed of Al, Na, Zr, K, Ba, Li, and organic C (± Ti, Mg, Se, Ni, Fe, Sr, V, Mn, Zn); carbonate component (dolomite, calcite, silicified carbonates) composed of carbonate C, Mg, Ca, and Si (± Mn); tentatively organic matter-hosted elements (and/or sulfide-sulfate phases) composed of Cu (± organic C, Zn, Mn Si, Ni, Hg, and Li). Selenium shows a dominant association with the shale component, but correlations and Qmode factors also indicate that organic matter (within the shale component) and carbonate fluorapatite may host a portion of the Se. Consideration of larger numbers of factors in Qmode analysis indicates that native Se (a factor containing Se (± Ba)) may also comprise a minor component of the Se compliment.

First posted September 25, 2002

For additional information, contact:
Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 901
Menlo Park, CA 94025-3591

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Suggested citation:

Hein, James R., McIntyre, Brandie, Perkins, Robert B., Piper, David Z., Evans, James, 2002, Composition of the Rex Chert and Associated Rocks of the Permian Phosphoria Formation: Soda Springs Area, SE Idaho: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 02-345, 30 pp.,






Discussion and conclusions



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