How was the Yucatan–Florida–Bahamas Platform complex deformed

Geology of Florida Albert C. Hine College of Marine Science University of South Florida


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Summary of Content

The geologic past of Florida is mostly out of sight with its maximum elevation at only ~105 m (in the panhandle) and much of south Florida is virtually flat. The surface of Florida is dominated by subtle shorelines from previous sea-level high-stands, karst-generated lakes, and small river drainage basins What we see are modern geologic (and biologic) environments, some that are world famous such as the Everglades, the coral reefs, and the beaches. But, where did all of this come from? Does Florida have a geologic history other than the usual mantra about having been “derived from the sea”? If so, what events of the geologic past converged to produce the Florida we see today?

To answer these questions, this module has two objectives: (1) to provide a rapid transit through geologic time to describe the key events of Florida’s past emphasizing processes, and (2) to present the high-profile modern geologic features in Florida that have made the State a world-class destination for visitors.

About the Author Albert C. Hine is the Associate Dean and Professor in the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. He earned his A.B. from Dartmouth College; M.S. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, Columbia—all in the geological sciences. Dr. Hine is a broadly-trained geological oceanographer who has addressed sedimentary geology and stratigraphy problems from the estuarine system out to the base of slope. Along with his associates and graduate students, they have defined the response of coastal and shelf depositional systems to sea-level fluctuations, climate changes, western boundary currents, antecedent topography, and sediment supply. Specifically this includes geologic origin and evolution of submerged paleo- shorelines, reefs (relict and active), shelf sand bodies, open marine marsh systems, barrier islands, and back-barrier environments and how they might have interacted with each other in the past.

Areas of specialization for Dr. Hine include: Geologic processes and products of shallow marine sedimentary environments. Development, history, stratigraphy, and sedimentation of carbonate platforms. Coastal geology, coastal wetlands, sequence stratigraphy, interpretation of seismic reflection data and seafloor mapping and interpretation.

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Oblique aerial photograph of a barrier island (Cayo Costa) on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coastline that is actively prograding as a result of a local abundance of quartz sand. A large, complex, vegetated offshore spit system has built up on an ebb-tidal delta creating a small lagoon which may become a freshwater wetland or lake in time if sufficient sand is supplied to stabilize the spit. This photograph amply demonstrates how tidal inlets affect adjacent shorelines.

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Geologic Map of the State of Florida with lithostratigraphic units and cross sections. Map generated by the Florida Geological Survey. See names of individual contributors printed on map.

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� What is the link between natural scenery and geology? � Why is geology important? � What are the primary geomorphologic features that dominate Florida’s topography?

Florida.2 State of Florida and the Florida Platform � For coastal or island states, does geology end at the coastline, and why or why not? � What geologic features define the Florida Platform? � What is a prominent former sea-level indicator?

Florida.3 A Brief Geologic History of Florida � What are the three fundamental components of the Florida Platform? � Where did the basement rocks come from? � What are the four basic ingredients needed to construct a carbonate platform?

Florida.4 The Emergence of Modern Florida � What types of rocks constitute the Florida Keys? � Why does Florida have so many wetlands? � Why are there significant plant-dominated shorelines in Florida?

© 2009 Brooks/Cole, a part of Cengage Learning. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this work covered by the copyright hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, Web distribution or information storage and retrieval systems—without the written permission of the publisher. The Adaptable Courseware Program consists of products and additions to existing Brooks/Cole products that are produced from camera-ready copy. Peer review, class testing, and accuracy are primarily the responsibility of the author(s). Geology of Florida/Albert C. Hine – First Edition ISBN 13: 978-1-426-62839-9; ISBN 10: 1-426-62839-0. Printed in Canada.

Note: The Geological Society of America’s 1999 Geologic Time Scale was used:

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Florida.1 Introduction Geology is amazing in that it provides a rational, scientific explanation for landscapes and their accompanying scenery. One does not need an earth science background to be in awe of the Himalayas or the Grand Canyon. But the origin of the Himalayas, for example, and how these mountains affect their own weather to produce the glaciers that have sculpted them provide a scientific perspective that makes them all the more wonderful. Even subtle variations in the Earth’s surface provide geologic narratives. So, in this sense, geology is a powerful tool to understand much of what we see in the physical world and all life contained therein. It is a visual science like no other. Additionally, geologic knowledge leads us to locate critical resources that we consume, provides us with knowledge to protect and conserve those resources and our environment, and provides us a tool to predict and therefore prepare for events that affect our lives. So, geology’s societal relevance is unquestioned.

Those who teach geology can lead students to outcrop- pings to see the rocks that compose the Earth’s crust and to peer into the Earth’s past. If you live in the western United States, geology is before you in the vistas of the Rocky Mountains, for example. Mountain ranges exhibit extraordi- nary scenic diversity, are pure beauty, and are pure geology— three qualities that should be linked in everyone’s mind.

In Florida, on the other hand, with its maximum eleva- tion at only approximately 105 meters (in the Panhandle) and much of south Florida virtually flat, with only a few meters of relief and lying only a few meters above sea level, the geologic past is mostly out of sight (Figure Florida.1). The surface morphology of Florida is dominated mostly by subtle paleoshorelines from previous sea-level highstands, karst-generated lakes, and small river drainage basins (Figure Florida.2). What we see are modern geologic (and biologic) environments—some that are world famous, such as the Everglades, the coral reefs, and the beaches. But, where did all of this come from? Does Florida have a geo- logic history other than the usual mantra about having been “derived from the sea”? If so, what events of the geologic past converged to produce the Florida we see today?

2 Geology of Florida

� Figure Florida.1 Image of Florida showing topography and basic morphologic features. Much of Florida is low topographically, with the highest elevations associated with the dissected coastal plain in the Panhandle. Ancient shoreline trends are shown cut by the modern river drainage system.

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Florida.2 State of Florida and the Florida Platform 3

This chapter seeks to answer these questions, and in doing so has the following two objectives: (1) to provide a rapid transit through geologic time to describe the key events of Florida’s past, emphasizing processes, and (2) to present some of the high-profile modern geologic features in Florida that have made the state a world-class destination for visitors.

Section Florida.1 Summary ● The science of geology explains the Earth’s topogra- phy and therefore its scenery and scenic diversity.

● Florida is topographically low and flat, so little of its geologic history is revealed in its geomorphology. Most of this history is hidden deep beneath the surface. Florida’s surface is dominated by (1) past sea-level events revealed in paleoshorelines, scarps, and terraces; (2) the present-day river drainage patterns; and (3) karst features.

● Florida supports significant modern geologic environ- ments such as (1) long and diverse coastlines and estuar- ies, (2) coral reefs, (3) and wetlands.

distinct geologic boundaries, Florida is a platform that extends well offshore, out to the base of its continental slope to the east and south and to the base of the West Florida Escarpment to the west. Consider it to be a huge, flat plateau with sloping sides that drop off into deep water. The elevation of today’s sea level defines the size of the state of Florida and shape of the coastline. However, this view is but a snapshot in time. Sea level has fluctuated over significant amplitudes (hundreds of meters) and over many cycles whose periods have extended from thousands to mil- lions of years, not counting the very high frequency cycles driven by climate, weather, and the astronomical tides. During the glacial and interglacial cycles of the Quaternary, sea level rose and fell by approximately 120 meters. We are in an interglacial period now, but some 18,000 years ago (18 kya), during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), so much water had been withdrawn from the ocean to form the Northern Hemisphere’s continental ice sheets that Florida’s west coast would have been approximately 150 kilometers farther out on the west Florida shelf. The state of Florida, as defined by its coastline, would have been twice the size that it is today. As evidence, geological oceanographers have identified and radiocarbon-dated a number of drowned shorelines that were once active thousands of years ago at lower sea level but that are now submerged in deep water— these are called paleoshorelines.

In a geologic sense, Florida is much more aptly defined by the margins of the Florida Platform: (1) the base of the West Florida Escarpment at sea to the west (approximately 3,200 meters deep), (2) the now-buried Georgia Channel System that extends southwest to northeast across south Georgia on the north, and (3) the Straits of Florida to the east and south (Figure Florida.3). The Florida Platform was once part of the much larger Florida–Bahamas Platform that was bounded by rift or transcurrent (faulted) margins farther to

� Figure Florida.2 Digital orthophoto quarter quadrangle image of north-central Florida showing basic morphological features—linear paleoshoreline trends punctuated by sinkholes. Small, modern drainage patterns are common as well.

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� Figure Florida.3 Map of the Florida–Bahamas–Greater Antilles region. Florida, the Blake Plateau, and the Bahamas were all part of one enormous carbonate platform. The structural boundaries defining this area are shown. The Straits of Florida now separate the Florida Platform from the Bahamas Platform.

Florida.2 State of Florida and the Florida Platform Most people think of Florida in terms of its land portion that is defined by the shoreline and the state’s boundaries with Georgia and Alabama. But, as a geologic entity with Ima

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the east where the submarine relief of the Florida-Bahamas Escarpment is more than 4,000 meters (Figure Florida.4).

This chapter focuses primarily on peninsular Florida and not the Panhandle. The geology of the Panhandle is essen- tially a southern extension of Georgia and Alabama. Additionally, this chapter presents the key events that have shaped Florida over geologic time. The stratigraphic nomenclature, formational names, ages, and lithologies may be found in many other resources.

the backbone of peninsular Florida. Second, lying on top of this backbone is a 2- to 6-kilometer-thick carbonate (lime- stone, dolomite) and evaporite sedimentary rock succession punctured by dissolution features, many of which have surfi- cial expression (see Figure Florida.4). Finally, these sedimen- tary rocks are covered by a relatively thin 1- to 150-meter veneer of mostly siliciclastic sands—at least on the subaeri- ally exposed portion of the Florida Platform. The quartz cover is what we all see when we look at the ground closely, and it is also visible from afar in space.

Where to Begin? The basement rocks underlying Florida originally extended across South America and northwest Africa, forming one continental landmass located at the South Pole (Figure Florida.5a). Over millions of years in the late Paleozoic, the megacontinent Pangaea was assembled and the Yucatan– Florida–Bahamas basement rocks were located approxi- mately 10,000 kilometers to the north, in the central portion of the megacontinent far from any ocean (Figure Florida.5b). As part of the Wilson cycle, megacontinents break up and form new ocean basins. Approximately 250 million years ago (250 mya), Laurentia (North America) and Gondwana (most of the rest of the continental mass includ- ing Africa and South America) began to pull apart, and by 180 mya the early North Atlantic Ocean began to form, with oceanic crust (basaltic, extrusive igneous rocks) appearing. Through a very complex and poorly understood rifting system over the next 40 million years, the North Atlantic Ocean widened, the Gulf of Mexico opened, and the proto–Caribbean Sea opened. Ultimately, this east-to-west seafloor-spreading propagation formed a global, tropical seaway called Tethys.

However, the rifting and seafloor spreading in the North Atlantic split off a segment of northwestern Africa, leaving it behind as part of the new North American Plate. This would become the basement beneath much of peninsular Florida. During the early part of the extension phase, a rift valley system, or a series of grabens, formed across south- ern Georgia. Had rifting and seafloor spreading continued to occur here, northern peninsular Florida never would have formed. Instead, the rifting ceased, leaving behind a graben complex that filled with seawater during sea-level highstands, thus separating and isolating northern peninsu- lar Florida from the rest of North America by a current- dominated seaway (Georgia Channel Seaway system).

Nearly simultaneously, two continental blocks (the Yucatan Block and the Florida Straits Block) were transport- ed by a different seafloor spreading, or transform fault sys- tem, that eventually formed the Gulf of Mexico ocean basin. One of these blocks, the Florida Straits Block, moved to the east along a transform fault. The space created became part of the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Straits Block now under- lies the southern portion of the peninsular Florida and much of the Bahama Banks. The formerly active fault is now known as the Bahamas Fracture Zone and extends northwest to southeast beneath central peninsular Florida, separating the

4 Geology of Florida

� Figure Florida.4 Generalized west-to-east cross-section extending across the Florida and Bahamas platforms. The carbonate Florida Platform was built on mostly Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks that once formed part of Africa and South America. This basement antecedent high forms the backbone of peninsular Florida. In some places, the carbonates are approximately 14 kilometers thick. This huge platform is defined by two major submarine erosional escarpments—the West Florida Escarpment (approximately 2 kilometers relief) and the Florida–Bahamas Escarpment (approximately 4 kilometers relief). A thin quartz sand veneer overlies the Florida Platform.

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Section Florida.2 Summary ● The geology of Florida should not be defined by the present-day coastline, which is but a snapshot in geologic time. Instead, the geology of Florida is defined by geologic features that outline the much larger Florida Platform.

● The size of the emergent, dry, subaerially exposed por- tion of the Florida Platform has varied enormously over geologic time due to numerous sea-level fluctuations.

Florida.3 A Brief Geologic History of Florida Building Blocks Now that the lateral extent of the Florida Platform has been defined, we turn to its vertical, internal extent, which consists of three building blocks, or components. First, the Florida Platform rests on Paleozoic-age to Mesozoic-age igneous and metasedimentary rocks that form its basement— continental crust and thinned transitional crust. This forms

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Florida.3 A Brief Geologic History of Florida 5

Because the northern peninsular Florida basement rocks were once part of northwestern Africa and the southern peninsular Florida basement rocks were probably once part of South America, they are exotic terrains. They are exotic in that they had been imported from non–North American sources and have little resemblance to basement rocks that constituted Laurentian (North American) basement rocks, which are of different age and different rock type (lithology). The granites, metasedimentary rocks, and extrusive volcanics forming the Florida–Bahamas basement rocks do not crop out and are known only from geophysical remote sensing techniques (gravity and magnetic anomalies) and by direct sampling from boreholes.

So, what was to become the Florida–Bahamas Platform has distinct structural and topographic crustal boundaries (see Figure Florida.3). It is bounded by (1) the failed rift to the north, which became the Georgia Channel Seaway (sometimes known as the Suwannee Straits); (2) the North Atlantic Ocean to the east, defined by both a rifted passive margin (Blake Plateau to the gap between Little and Great Bahama Banks) and the Bahamas Fracture Zone (north central and southern Bahamas); (3) the proto–Caribbean Sea to the south, a rifted or faulted margin (eventually to become a collision margin); and (4) the Gulf of Mexico to the west, another complex rifted margin defined by a crustal boundary.

The Florida–Bahamas Platform later (during the middle to Late Cretaceous) became two separate carbonate deposi- tional areas with the formation of the Straits of Florida, which now separates the Florida Platform and the Bahamas Platform. The Florida Platform, connected to the North American continent, has been influenced by sediments and water (both surface and subsurface) emanating from this larger landmass. The Bahamas Platform, now detached and separated from the North American continent by seaways, has been unaffected from terrestrial influences and has had a different geologic history.

Building the Carbonate Platform With the Florida basement rocks now in place (along with the Yucatan and northern Bahamas), shallow-water carbonate sedimentary environments formed. Eventually, by the Middle Jurassic, a thick succession of carbonate rocks produced one of the largest carbonate platform complexes ever seen on Earth. The prolific production of carbonate sediments and the thick stratigraphic succession resulted from the conver- gence of the following four ingredients: (1) an extensive, ele- vated basement surface on which to develop a carbonate platform; (2) a tropical or subtropical latitude setting so that the basement surface was bathed by warm, shallow seawater during high sea levels; (3) marine sedimentary environments that were protected from the southeastern North American continental margin influences such as fluvial (river) runoff and coastal sedimentation that might have inhibited carbon- ate production; and (4) early, rapid subsidence that would provide the required space (accommodation space) to allow thick carbonate stratigraphic units to form.

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Reconstruction of the megacontinent Pangaea about 250 mya. Note that Florida lies between South America and Africa, well inland from any oceanic influence. By this time, Florida basement rocks had migrated, via plate tectonic processes, approximately 10,000 kilometers to the north across the equator. Rocks from both of these continents underlie northern Florida, south Georgia, and southeast South Carolina.

Pre-Pangaean distribution of continental fragments in the early Paleozoic ocean (approximately 500 mya). Note that Florida straddles the connection between South America and Africa and lies at the South Pole.



northern peninsular Florida basement rocks from the south- ern peninsular Florida basement rocks (see Figure Florida.3). The Bahamas Fracture Zone also forms the eastern margin of much of the central and southern Bahamas, now defined by the Bahamas Escarpment mentioned earlier.

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6 Geology of Florida

to the early formation of the carbonate gigabank (a really big platform—bigger than a megabank). When sea level was lower, this huge platform was subaerially exposed, creating unconformities that define the boundaries of stratigraphic units. But, essentially, for millions of years, shallow-water carbonate sedimentary environments persisted and created much of the thick carbonate cover overlying the now deeply buried basement rocks. Later, starting in the early Cenozoic, a number of geologic events significantly altered the pristine carbonate sedimentary regime.

Altering the Platform Platform Drowning—Stressing the Carbonate Factory The first of the platform-altering events was the drowning of the west Florida margin starting in the Early to middle Cretaceous (100 to 80 mya). Drowning means that the seafloor’s ability to accumulate carbonate sediments is less than the overall subsidence rate. As a result, the shelf becomes deeper and eventually falls below the photic zone, thus compromising the ability of the carbonate factory to produce sediments. A distinctive character of the Florida Platform is the broad, wide, gently westward sloping ramp (not a shallow rim) of the west Florida shelf that terminates approximately 1,800 meters deep on top of the West Florida Escarpment (see Figure Florida.4). The West Florida Escarpment then drops precipitously, to 3,200 meters in the deep Gulf of Mexico. Some speculate that this broad, wide, sloping shelf may have resulted from environmental crises involving global oceanic anoxic events (OAE) that initially stressed the carbonate factory during the Cretaceous.

From approximately 100 to 80 mya, significant volcanic emanations on the oceanic crust from deep mantle plumes (from primarily the western Pacific Ocean) enriched the atmosphere with carbon dioxide (CO2), a potent greenhouse

These factors allowed for the development of a huge car- bonate platform to form in the Yucatan–Florida–Bahamas area. They also allowed this platform to extend all the way up to present-day Nova Scotia to form a gigaplatform— 6,000 kilometers long, up to 1,000 kilometers wide in places, and eventually up to 14 kilometers thick—probably the largest carbonate platform complex ever on Earth. The platform- building zenith appeared approximately 140 mya in the Late Jurassic. Eventually, the platforms extending up the North American east coast were finally buried, where they now lie several kilometers beneath the present-day siliciclastic- dominated continental shelves.

Carbonate platforms often have predictable distribution of depositional environments. Along rimmed margins, which face the deep ocean, there is a slope or steep escarp- ment that plunges into as much as 5 kilometers of water (see Figure Florida.4). Here, sediments that are shed from the platform top accumulate to form the platform slope. These are fine-grained sediments that may have coarser material embedded within, sometimes huge, building-size blocks that have slumped downslope because of gravity- induced instability. The shallow margin may be dominated by reef-building organisms that form a rigid framework or strong tidal flows on or off the platform may form extensive sand bores (which consist of ooids or rounded skeletal grains). During the Mesozoic, rudistid (a bivalve) reefs were dominant—not coral reefs. Farther into the platform, the wave and tidal energy dissipates and a huge, shallow shelf lagoon resides. Here, a benthic community of seagrasses, cal- careous-producing algae, mollusks, bryozoans, foraminifera, and many other calcareous-secreting organisms produce car- bonate sedimentary material ranging from coarse shelly gravel to fine-grained muds. Carbonate islands made from wind-blown carbonate sand dunes, extensive tidal flats, beaches, offshore sand bodies, interior lakes, and the like create a complex mosaic of closely spaced but quite differ- ent sedimentary environments. The carbonate sediments formed in these depositional environments eventually became carbonate rock (Figure Florida.6).

With the Florida–Bahamas Platform approximately 1,000 kilometers wide, water circulation at the middle of the platform at times became very sluggish, evaporation began to dominate, salinities became elevated, and eventually evaporite minerals such as gypsum and anhydrite precipi- tated. Later dissolution of these evaporites within the plat- form yielded hypersaline brines, which continue to sustain strange and unusual life forms in the deep waters along the southwestern Florida platform margin, where they leak out into the deep marine environment. Here, the brines support chemosynthetic organisms similar to those found at vents along the mid-ocean ridge. Finding these vent-type benthic communities (bacterial mats, tube worms, clams, shrimp, etc.) in waters approximately 3 kilometers deep at the base of the West Florida Escarpment has been one of the major oceanographic discoveries in Florida in recent decades.

The extended sea-level highstand during the Cretaceous Greenhouse Earth and its prolonged warmth were essential

� Figure Florida.6 Digital orthophoto quarter quadrangle image of a limestone rock quarry near the west Florida Gulf of Mexico coastline. Florida is a major producer of carbonate rock.

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Florida.3 A Brief Geologic History of Florida 7

migrated some 2,000 kilometers to the northeast into the proto–Caribbean Sea through the 3,000-kilometer gap that separates North America from South America (Fig- ure Florida.7). It consumed the proto–Caribbean Sea ocean basin crust through subduction. By approximately 84 mya, the island arc moved by the Yucatan Block (Platform), break- ing off a carbonate section that eventually became western- most Cuba. By 56 mya, the island arc collided with the passive south margin of the Florida–Bahamas carbonate platform.

Because the Florida–Bahamas Platform is relatively less dense material (limestone) than ocean crust (igneous rocks), these thick carbonates were too buoyant to be subducted. The relative movement of the volcanic arc carrying the early Greater Antilles islands essentially stalled. But there was significant deformation and uplift as a result, creating folds, thrust sheets, and faults in Cuba. In western Cuba, Jurassic carbonate slope facies derived from the shallow platforms to the north were uplifted to form 300-meter- high, steep-sided, rounded hills called mogotes, which were sculpted by 50 million years of karstic erosional processes, as suggested before.

However, this topography and tectonically derived struc- tures are not seen in Florida. The geologic and topographic contrast between south Florida and central-western Cuba could not be more different. The overall effects of this oro- genic event on the Florida–Bahamas Platform were that perhaps as much as 50 kilometers of carbonate platform (and associated slope) material became part of Cuba and that flexural loading as a result of the collision depressed southern Florida, creating the southern Straits of Florida and likely drowning part of the Florida–Bahamas Platform.

So, although there does not appear to be significant uplift and deformation in peninsular Florida as a result of the Antillean Orogeny, the collision with this Cretaceous island arc did contribute to Florida’s isolation by possibly establish- ing, deepening, and extending the southern Straits of Florida.

� Figure Florida.7 Diagram depicting the Caribbean Plate migrating into the gap between North America and South America at 72 mya. The Greater Antilles, including Cuba, eventually collided with the Yucatan–Florida–Bahamas Platform approximately 56 mya, consuming the south margin of this carbonate platform complex.

gas. As a result of high CO2, global temperature and thus global sea level rose to probably its highest elevation in the Earth’s history (combination of no glaciers, seawater expan- sion, and smaller ocean basin volume). This period of time is called the Greenhouse Earth. Global warmth probably reduced atmospheric circulation, and the oceans became stratified with anoxic water lying beneath a shallow mixed zone. This stratification allowed anoxic water to move up onto shallow carbonate platforms during times of high sea level, sometimes destroying benthic communities and their ability to produce carbonate sediment. This lack of sediment production, coupled with persistent passive margin tectonic subsidence, caused the west Florida margin to fall below the photic zone. Rather than a wide, shallow, flat-topped carbon- ate platform, a gently sloping carbonate ramp formed, ever deepening to the west, drowning the carbonate sediment production factory.

These environmental crises (OAEs) might have formed a portion of the Straits of Florida and some of the seaways within the modern Bahamas, thus segmenting this gigabank into smaller shallow banks separated by deep seaways. This selective drowning to the south and east may have begun to separate Florida from the Bahamas by forming a deep seaway. It is possible that the Cuban collision (see later discussion of the Antillean Orogeny) with the Yucatan–Florida–Bahamas Platform contributed to the drowning and segmentation of the Florida–Bahamas Platform as well.

Thus, the platform segmentation is an important event in that it defines when Florida and the northern Bahamas became separated into distinctly different geologic provinces. Before, they were essentially the same feature. Afterward, the Bahamas remained isolated from the effects (i.e., enhanced nutrients, low oxygen, turbidity from river runoff, sands from longshore sand transport) of the North American continent and remain one of the classic carbonate-producing environments in the world. Florida remained attached to North America and began to be influ- enced by siliciclastic input, particularly starting in the early to middle Cenozoic.

Antillean Orogeny—Deforming the Platform From the Middle Jurassic to the Early Paleocene, the Florida–Bahamas carbonate platform extended into the proto–Caribbean Sea much farther south than it does today. However, a tectonic collision between a Cretaceous vol- canic island arc system and this carbonate platform complex created the Greater Antilles. This tectonic collision is called the Antillean Orogeny, and it occurred approximately 56 to 50 mya.

The geologic details of the origin and tectonic history of the modern Caribbean ocean basin and its effects on its margins are some of the most complex and controversial topics in plate tectonic motion studies today. However, there is widespread acceptance that the Greater Antilles volcanic island arc system began to form about 120 mya in the eastern Pacific Ocean associated with a subduction zone. This island arc (leading edge of the Caribbean Plate)

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8 Geology of Florida

on the later development of the Florida Platform. If any evidence of this event exists within the Florida Platform, it lies deep in the subsurface. Nevertheless, the tsunami formed by this event should have washed across the sub- merged platform, probably leaving some yet-undetected signature in the sediments and rocks.

Groundwater and Springs—Dissolving the Platform Almost from the initial deposition of the first carbonate rocks on top of the basement, acidic groundwaters began to dissolve cavities within them and etched subaerially exposed surfaces on them. Karstification is both an internal and an external process. As the carbonate rocks became older and thicker, these dissolved, open spaces or caves became larger and more interconnected. Some caves extend for many kilo- meters and may occur at great depth into the subsurface (Figure Florida.8). When freshwater tables are supported by surrounding saline groundwater, mixing-zone dissolution occurs and causes more cavities to form. Additionally, rocks fracture because of differential loading or subsidence, seis- mic activity, earth tides, intraplate stress, and other ongo- ing earth forces, thus further interconnecting subterranean open spaces.

In sedimentary rocks, aquifers form where there is prominent groundwater flow through relatively distinct zones. Beneath the Florida Platform lies the Florida aquifer system—a huge porous and permeable zone (extending into Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, where it is recharged by rainfall and surface runoff. The Florida aquifer system ful- fills much of the freshwater needs for the people, industry, and agriculture in the state.

Where cavities form near the ground surface, sinkholes create depressions that fill with water, thus vertically linking surface waters and the underlying aquifer (Figures Florida.9 and Florida.10). In the past sinkholes were used as waste- disposal sites—which provided the potential for widespread subterranean pollution. Much of Florida’s geomorphology is dominated by sinkhole-derived lakes that form as a result of sinkhole clusters. There are approximately 7,700 karst- formed lakes more than 10 acres (approximately 4,000 square meters) in size in Florida. Perhaps the 100-meter- wide, 30-meter-deep sinkhole that appeared over a 3-day period in May 1981 in Winter Park, causing $4 million in damage, is the best known example of relatively recent sink- hole activity in Florida and the geohazard such sinkholes pose (Figure Florida.10).

Where the potentiometric surface is projected above a sinkhole, artesian conditions exist because water flows from the orifice and forms a spring. Florida is world famous for its “gin-clear” springs that make for popular tourist attractions with glass-bottom boats, as well as public parks for recre- ation. Of the 78 known first-magnitude springs (meaning they discharge more than 100 cubic feet per second— 8.5 cubic meters per second) in the United States, Florida boasts 33 of them. There are more than 700 springs in Florida (Figure Florida.11). These springs have nearly constant tem- perature year-round and are warmer than coastal waters are in the winter; thus, they attract manatees. Concentrations of

� Figure Florida.8 Cartoon depiction of subterranean dissolution of carbonate rock that forms variously shaped and oriented cavities.

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� Figure Florida.9 Map showing distribution of sinkholes in Florida. Note that sinkholes are more likely to be located in central and north Florida, where older carbonate rocks crop out or are covered only by a thin veneer of quartz-rich sediment. (See geologic map on inside cover.)

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The K/T Boundary Bolide Event—A Nonevent in Florida One of best known geologic events is identified by the K/T boundary (65.5 mya). The extinction of the dinosaurs is widely attributed to the impact of a large mete- orite into the nearby Yucatan Peninsula. Florida was but a short distance away, and one might expect a noticeable geo- logic effect. Because this extraterrestrial event predates the tectonic collision between Cuba and the Florida–Bahamas carbonate margin, there was a small but deepwater basin between the Greater Antilles and the carbonate platform. The shock of the impact event probably destabilized the high-relief carbonate platform slopes, producing enormous submarine landslides. Portions of these sediment gravity flows (landslides) can now be found uplifted in Cuba, but there is no evidence that this impact had a significant effect

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these protected marine mammals make springs even more environmentally significant. Given sufficient discharge, these springs form rivers, perhaps the most famous of which is the Suwannee River, which is fed by at least 50 known springs and probably countless more. The Big Bend coast of Florida has many of these spring-fed streams, which com- monly have Native American names such as Pithlachascotee, Weeki Wachee, Chassahowitzka, Homosassa, Waccasassa,

Florida.3 A Brief Geologic History of Florida 9

Withlacoochee, and Wakulla (Figure Florida.11). Some smaller streams emanate from springs and flow across the ground surface, only to disappear down another sinkhole.

Seafloor investigation has shown that springs are actively discharging onto Florida’s continental shelf. Additionally, a number of springs discharge warm (approximately 31°C) seawater and mineral-enriched (i.e., Cl�1, SO4

�2, Na�1, K�1, Ca�2, Mg�2, and HCO3

�2) water, indicating an interior source and plumbing system distinct from the clear fresh- water. The most famous example is Warm Mineral Spring (an onshore spring) in Sarasota County, commonly referred to as Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth. Sinkholes and springs are also paleontologic and archeologic treasure troves containing fossils, bones, and artifacts.

Along the Big Bend coast, Eocene rocks of the Ocala Limestone are exposed and have been etched by karst processes—probably for millions of years (Figure Florida.12). This sediment-starved coastline features count- less limestone high areas that support less-salt-tolerant plants within the extensive open marine marshes forming island hammocks. Probe-rod profile cross-sections across this marsh show that local relief of the underlying carbon- ate rocks is nearly 10 meters, revealing extensive rock disso- lution (inland, karst areas often have buried sinks with a relief of more than 50 meters). Indeed, some marsh creeks do not meander as expected but are confined to rectilinear fracture patterns in the carbonate bedrock lying in the very shallow subsurface. Where they are drowned by

� Figure Florida.10 Aerial photo of the famous Winter Park sinkhole that suddenly appeared in May 1981.

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sea-level rise, these rocky high areas partially support huge oyster reefs.

Finally, an unresolved issue in Florida’s geology is the elevation of west-central peninsular Florida, where these karstified Eocene carbonates crop out. Rocks of similar age lie hundreds of meters in the subsurface in the northern Bahamas, for example. This elevated area, properly known as the Ocala Platform, has been called the Ocala Arch, the Ocala Upland, the Ocala Blister Dome, and the Ocala Uplift, but the process of uplift has not been fully explained or widely accepted. One explanation (not fully accepted) attributes the process to isostatic adjustment, which is caused by the dissolution and export of carbonate rock mass, whereby the dissolved rock leaves the platform. This would allow uplift to occur as a result of a reduction in the lithostatic load. Perhaps there are other regional tectonic processes at work, but this theory does demonstrate a potentially significant additional effect of widespread disso- lution of rocks within carbonate platforms.

Hydrocarbons in Florida Fluids other than water that migrate through rocks include oil and gas. In spite of the fact that Florida borders the Gulf of Mexico, one of the giant hydrocarbon provinces on Earth, there is relatively little oil or gas produced from land-based sites in Florida. There are two widely spaced oil fields—the Sunniland trend in south peninsular Florida and the Jay trend in the western Panhandle. Approximately 100 kilometers offshore the extreme western Panhandle in the DeSoto Canyon area, in water depths ranging from hundreds of meters to 1,000 meters, is a highly productive area—particularly for gas. But this area is located off-platform in a geologic sense and is not related to the shallow-water carbonate rocks that underlie most of the Florida Platform. The relatively low hydrocarbon productivity from the platform is most likely a result of the lack of source rocks and structural and strati- graphic features that are required to trap upwardly migrat- ing hydrocarbons.

Siliciclastic Invasion—Burying the Platform As men- tioned earlier, the third building block constituting the Florida Platform is the thin siliciclastic veneer overlying the limestone and dolomite carbonates. Although volumet- rically tiny compared to the volume of carbonate rock that forms the Florida Platform, the quartz sand cover is what people see when they visit the state. Indeed, the sand on the state’s famous beaches is mostly quartz, admixed with skeletal debris from nearshore benthic communities. This skeletal material is what makes for the great sea-shell hunting on Florida’s beaches. But quartz sand is the dominant sediment on those beaches.

Quartz (SiO2) is the most abundant mineral (feldspar is the most abundant mineral in oceanic crust) in the conti- nental crust of the Earth and one of the most durable. Quartz sediments are originally produced during the mechanical and chemical weathering of granitic type rocks—found in deeply eroded mountain ranges. Therefore, Florida’s quartz sand must have originated in

the southern Appalachian Mountains. There is no local source of quartz because the crystalline basement rocks are deeply buried.

Thus, the following two questions immediately come to mind: (1) when did quartz-rich sands (and gravels) reach peninsular Florida, and (2) what was the mode of sediment transport?

The Georgia Channel Seaway (see Figures Florida.3 and Florida.13) acted as a dynamic boundary by preventing nutrient-rich and turbid waters from negatively affecting the carbonate sediment-producing factory for much of the Mesozoic and up until the middle Oligocene. Probably during the extreme sea-level lowstand during the middle Oligocene (approximately 28 mya), prograding river deltas filled in the Georgia Channel Seaway so that, during the ensuing sea-level highstand, quartz sediments could be transported across the seaway and onto the northern portion of the Florida Platform. Once reaching the platform, a long, complex transport pathway extended all the way down peninsular Florida, terminating at the Pourtales Terrace, a submarine erosional feature lying in 200 to 300 meters of water (Figure Florida.14). Beneath the Everglades and the Florida Keys lies the Long Key Formation of the Late Miocene to Late Pliocene that contains quartz gravel and is approximately 150 meters thick. How such significant quan- tities of siliciclastic sediment could travel such a great dis- tance down the highest part of the platform and be deposited in deep water has been the subject of some conjecture.

One theory says that much of the north to south trans- port occurred by longshore currents set up by breaking waves on beaches. The extensive, linear beach ridges seen in aerial photos or in space imagery indicate that Florida has been influenced by multiple sea-level fluctuations in the past (see Figures Florida.1 and Florida.2). With a net southerly transport, sands and gravels in the surf zone asso- ciated with these paleoshorelines must have been the domi- nant mode of movement, terminating at the southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge—a primary geomorphologic fea- ture that extends down the peninsula. South of this feature, quartz sand and gravel transport occurred in a paleofluvial system, as shown by a southward-prograding delta system that probably terminated at the present location of the Florida Keys. Here, river deltas probably introduced these sediments into the marine system, which built a siliciclastic shelf and slope system that ultimately reached the 250- to 400-meter-deep Pourtales Terrace. This concluded a nearly 1,000-kilometer-long siliciclastic sediment transport system that began with quartz sediments being released from the basement rocks that form the Piedmont and Blue Ridge of the southern Appalachian Mountains.

In the Pleistocene, carbonate sedimentation conditions returned, and these siliciclastic sediments were covered and buried beneath what are now the Everglades and the Keys.

Phosphates—Changing the Platform’s Oceanographic Regime During the Miocene, several specific events on the Florida Platform converged to create a unique depositional

10 Geology of Florida

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Florida.3 A Brief Geologic History of Florida 11

� Figure Florida.12 Geologic map of Florida illustrating exposure of Eocene-age and Oligocene-age limestone in the Big Bend area. The exposed rocks are karstified and have an irregular surface that, when flooded, forms hundreds of marsh islands. The lack of sedimentary cover on this karst surface and the low wave energy have formed this unusual marsh-dominated, open-marine coastline.

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setting—unlike anything before in Florida’s geologic history. Phosphate sediments were formed on and within the seafloor during periods of sea-level highstand. (Sea level was probably approximately 40 meters higher than today and high enough to submerge most of peninsular Florida beneath a broad, shallow sea.

During these multiple, elevated sea-level events, a com- ponent of the Loop Current traversed the top of the plat- form and was deflected southward into slightly deeper water by the shallower portion of central peninsular Florida. This deflection produced persistent upwelling, which stimulated primary productivity—algal blooms enriched by nutrients from below and fueled by photosynthesis from above. Primary productivity created a very fertile environment that could support abundant complex marine life, including one of the ocean’s greatest, top-of-the-food-chain predators that ever lived—the great shark Carcharodon (Carcharocles) megalodon (a possible ancestor of today’s great white shark). This huge shark grew to 18 meters and weighed 20 tons (Figure Florida.15). This animal had to consume 2% of its body weight daily, or nearly 800 pounds. So, the shallow ocean covering central peninsular Florida had to provide a huge array of marine life to support C. megalodon and the many other sharks whose redeposited teeth are ubiquitous in modern rivers and along certain beaches. Along the meander bends of the rivers in central Florida and along

12 Geology of Florida

beaches where Miocene stratigraphic units (Hawthorn Group) are eroded, such as Venice Beach on west-central Florida coast, shark teeth, as well as fossils from marine animals (alligators, marine mammals, and fish) and nonma- rine animals (horses, rhinoceroses, bears, peccaries, and sloths), are easily found. The nonmarine animals (saber- tooth cats, mastodons, mammoths, etc.) occupied central Florida during intervening sea-level lowstands during and after the Miocene and post-Miocene—resedimentation mixes both together. Indeed, central Florida is one of the great fossil-hunting places in the world.

But it is the mining of phosphate as a key ingredient for fertilizer that has provided one of the most important geolo- gy-based industries in Florida. In fact, Florida leads all other states in the production of phosphate. Any bag of fertilizer prominently displays three numbers, such as 10-15-20. These numbers refer to percentage weight in nitrogen (N), phos- phorus (expressed as P2O5), and potash (K2O—potassium), respectively. All three elements are essential for life (hence they are called nutrients). Other, “trace” elements such as iron (Fe) and copper (Cu) also may be included. Phosphorus (P) is essential to life in that it helps “shape” the DNA molecule and plays a vital role in the way living matter provides energy for biochemical reactions in cells; it also strengthens bones and teeth. Ninety percent of phosphate mined is used to make fertilizer. Phosphorus is also used in animal feed and is found in other products, such as toothpaste and soft drinks.

A natural source of phosphorus is organic matter itself, and the ocean conveniently provides large quantities of organic matter in the form of phytoplankton (marine plants growing in upwelling zones where nutrients and sunlight mix). Where the water is shallow, marine plant organic mat- ter can sink to the seafloor without being consumed, where it becomes buried. After burial, a chemical reaction forms phosphorus-rich minerals such as francolite. Other rela- tively insoluble phosphorus-rich minerals may form as well, but the final product is called phosphate, or phosphorite if enriched. Sedimentary particles of phosphate range from mud to gravel size, but the mining process prefers the sand- size particles. The phosphate-rich stratigraphic units, part of the Hawthorn Group, generally underlie up to 10 meters of quartz-sand overburden, which is stripped off by huge, electrically powered draglines—some of the biggest mobile machines made (Figure Florida.16a). Land reclamation after the strip mining is required (Figure Florida.16b). Radon gas is also a health hazard posed by the strip-mining process. The gas is produced by radioactive decay of naturally elevated uranium associated with the phosphate deposits. Structures built on reclaimed land have to be carefully ventilated to prevent radioactive radon gas accumulation inside. Radon gas (Rn 222) is much heavier than normal air and is easily trapped in buildings as it escapes upward.

The mud fraction of the mined sediment is sent to huge slime ponds held back by earthen dams, where the fine- grained particles eventually settle out. These slime ponds can be seen from space (Figure Florida.17). The sand-size phosphate is separated from quartz and carbonate sand-size

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� Figure Florida.13 Cartoon illustrating the Georgia Channel Seaway system (also known as the Suwannee Straits) that sepa- rates peninsular Florida from the North American mainland. This seaway occupies the structural low formed by the failed rift basin or graben when North America and Africa separated. Currents (paleo–Loop Current) flowed through this seaway and prevented nutrient-rich and turbid waters from reaching the shallow, clear, pris- tine waters covering the Florida Platform during elevated sea levels. Eventually, river deltas from the north filled in the seaway during low- ered sea level, thus allowing siliciclastic sediment to reach and cover the Florida Platform.

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Florida.3 A Brief Geologic History of Florida 13

� Figure Florida.14 Depiction of the siliciclastic sediment transport pathway extending from south Georgia to the Straits of Florida. Sediments were transported by longshore transport and formed multiple shorelines down most of peninsular Florida. These sediments were further transported to the south, probably via high-discharge, local rivers and streams, and formed river deltas that extended to the Florida Keys. Marine currents and downslope sediment gravity processes carried the siliciclastics into the deep water of the Straits of Florida.

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particles and sent to a chemical processing plant. At a chemi- cal processing plant, the phosphorus is removed from the par- ent mineral using sulfuric acid (H2SO4); this process produces large quantities of gypsum (CaSO4), which contains uranium as an unwanted by-product. The gypsum cannot be used for other industrial purposes and is piled high in huge stacks that may be the highest landform nearby and can be seen from great distances. These gypsum stacks pose significant envi- ronmental hazards for the state, particularly in their potential to pollute groundwater. The finished product, concentrated phosphorus granules, is exported to fertilizer plants, where the other nutrients and trace elements are added.

This period of phosphatization on the Florida Platform is an important and unique component for Florida’s geolog- ic history. Neither during the great lengths of time in the Mesozoic while the carbonate platform was being built nor in the early or late Cenozoic did such environmental parameters converge to create this unusual depositional setting. And such conditions have not occurred since.

14 Geology of Florida

Section Summary Florida.3 ● The three fundamental components of the Florida Platform are (1) basement rocks of mostly Paleozoic age (some Mesozoic); (2) carbonate rocks of Mesozoic and Cenozoic age; and (3) siliciclastic sediments, primarily quartz sand that arrived in the Cenozoic.

� Figure Florida.15 Growth series of C. megalodon jaws. The huge shark lived in the Miocene ocean, which was extremely fertile with abundant food. This enormous predator and many other species of smaller sharks left behind millions of teeth that can be found in river beds and on Florida’s beaches. The teeth are the most durable part of the shark skeleton.

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Results of dragline mining of phosphate sediments. The process removes the overburden and then extracts the phosphate-rich sediments.



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● Most of the basement rocks were part of the former Gondwana. Florida’s basement rocks were situated between South America and northwest Africa. Collectively, they form an exotic terrain because they were not once part of North American basement rocks.

● A piece of northwest Africa that remained attached to North America during early rifting formed the northern portion of Florida, southern Georgia, and southeastern South Carolina. The Florida Straits Block formed the southern portion of peninsular Florida. These two base- ment pieces are separated by a former transform fault (Bahamas Fracture Zone), which runs northwest to southeast beneath middle peninsular Florida.

● The following four ingredients are needed to construct a carbonate platform: (1) an extensive, elevated basement surface; (2) a tropical or subtropical setting (low latitude); (3) marine sedimentary environments that are protected from the southeast North American continental margin

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Florida.3 A Brief Geologic History of Florida 15

� Figure Florida.17 Digital orthophoto quarter quadrangle image of slime ponds in central peninsular Florida. These are huge artificial bodies of water supported by earthen dikes into which muddy water is placed so that the fine-grained particles separated from the coarser sediment can settle out of suspen- sion. The water is then recycled.

influences; and (4) early, rapid subsidence that provides the required accommodation space for thick carbonate stratigraphic units to fill in.

● In a wide, shallow carbonate platform, water exchange with the open ocean is greatly reduced. This leads to increased salinity because of evaporation. Eventually this leads to the precipitation of evaporite minerals.

● Carbonate-producing sedimentary environments (carbonate factory) may not be able to produce or retain sediments (because of export) to keep up with sea- level rise or long-term tectonic subsidence or both. If the carbonate platform and its carbonate sediment- producing factory cannot keep up, it becomes submerged deeper and deeper with time. With sub- mergence into darkness, the light-dependent, benthic organisms can no longer exist because the seafloor has subsided below the photic zone. Thus, the platform is “drowned.”

● A carbonate-rimmed margin has a shallow reef and/or islands perched along the edge just before the platform drops off abruptly into deeper water. A carbonate ramp is a shelf that deepens gradually seaward.

● The middle Cretaceous is known as the period of Greenhouse Earth because of the elevated CO2 levels, enhanced warmth, lack of ice, and elevated sea level.

● The Yucatan–Florida–Bahamas Platform complex was deformed when the southern extent of the complex was uplifted and incorporated into Cuba. Also, the southern Straits of Florida were probably formed as a result of flexural loading during the collision.

● The meteorite (bolide) that struck the Yucatan Peninsula, defining the K/T boundary, might have caused the collapse of the carbonate platform margins leading to submarine landslides. Coarse sediments may have been transported onto and across the Florida Platform as a result of the tsunami washing over it. However, to date no evidence of this impact event has been found within the Florida Platform.

● Fracturing of rocks leads to enhanced permeability, slightly acidic rainfall, and mixing of different salinity water masses. This mixing creates slightly undersaturated water (with respect to calcium carbonate) that is capable of dissolving limestone. The process of dissolving carbonate rock forms cavities within the rock—some of which col- lapse, creating sinkholes on the surface. Sinkhole for- mation and “acid-etching” of the surface carbonates both create karst topography.

● Widespread dissolution of carbonate rocks produces a large aquifer. Flowing water in the aquifer provides a rich water resource for humans.

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edifice of south Florida. The last sea-level highstand (approximately 125 kya) was approximately 6 meters higher than the present-day sea level and produced the limestone that forms much of the modern Keys. Three well-known rock units were formed during this sea-level highstand event: (1) the Miami Limestone (oolitic grainstone), (2) the Key Largo Limestone (reef rock; Figure Florida.18), and (3) the Anastasia Formation (coquina shell rich).

These units all formed at the same time and represent a lateral facies change in depositional environment. The rocky islands constituting the upper Keys (Figure Florida.19a) were once a linear band of reefs that formed in water that was deeper than it is now. These rocks form the Key Largo Limestone (fossil coral reef rock). The lower Keys (also rocky

16 Geology of Florida

Florida.4 Emergence of Modern Florida When the siliciclastic influx from the north and the paleo- ceanographic regime that simulated phosphate deposition both ceased by the late Tertiary and early Quaternary, shal- low-water carbonate deposition returned to south Florida, ultimately forming the Keys and their associated reefs. Strontium dating tells us that carbonate rocks lying on top of the siliciclastic sediments began to accumulate 2.0 to 1.5 mya. It was during this time that an elevated, shallow-water shelf had begun to replace the ramp down which river deltas dur- ing the Pliocene had transported quartz sands and gravels. It marked the return of carbonate sedimentation. Since this middle to Late Pliocene sea-level highstand event, at least five additional sea-level highstands, including the present high- stand, have provided additional sequences to the carbonate

� Figure Florida.18 Fossil in situ coral in Key Largo Limestone exposed in outcrop. The upper Keys are made up of a coral reef that formed approximately 125 kya when sea level was about 6 meters higher than it is today. Distance across the image is about 60 cm.

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The lower Keys are cemented, tidal sand bars formed by strong ebb-and-flood currents that flow on and off the shelf margin. These limestone ridges, approximately 125 kya, trend normal to the shelf edge and are made of Miami Limestone.

Digital orthophoto quarter quadrangle image of Florida Keys. The upper Keys are former coral reefs that run parallel to the shelf edge, making up the Key Largo Limestone.



● Quartz sediment comes from quartz crystals weath- ered out of granitic rocks or from weathered metamor- phic or quartz-rich sedimentary rocks found in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

● When the Georgia Channel Seaway complex began to fill in during the middle Oligocene, river deltas emanating from the southern Appalachian Mountains or Piedmont could bring siliciclastic sediments to the Florida Platform.

● Convergence of the following events produced phos- phate deposition: (1) high sea level, (2) upwelling caused by deflected currents, (3) burial of organic matter on the seafloor, and (4) anoxic conditions within sediment.

● Mining of phosphate leads to the following environmen- tal problems: (1) radiation from radon gas, (2) environ- mental/ ecological degradation caused by strip mining, (3) gypsum stacks containing radiation, and (4) slime ponds.

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islands, but not fossil coral reefs) to the south, and the area in Miami area to the north, were tidal bars formed by strong ebb-and-flood tidal currents that flowed on and off the shelf margin (Figure Florida.19b).

The lower Keys are fundamentally different in terms of geomorphology and lithology than the upper Keys because they are made of cemented oolitic grainstone (a type of carbonate, sand-size sediment) and not reef rock. These former tidal bars also lie north of the upper Keys reef rock and extend to the boundary between Broward and Palm Beach counties.

These individual islands (the former tidal bars) are ori- ented normal to the bank edge, in contrast to the upper Keys, which run parallel to the bank edge. The reef rock (commonly called keystone) of the upper Keys was mined extensively at Windley Key—now the Windley Key Fossil Reef State Park (—where exca- vations reveal hundreds if not thousands of fossil corals in their original growth position (see Figure Florida.18). It is one of the best coral reef outcrops in the United States. These reef rocks have been the source of the facing stone used for many building in south Florida.

The Miami Limestone and the Key Largo Limestone have been subaerially exposed for approximately 125 k.y. A

Florida.4 Emergence of Modern Florida 17

distinctive feature covering these rocks is a red imperme- able crust called caliche (also called duricrust)—a lithified paleosol that formed during this 125 k.y. time frame. The reddish color comes from their 4% to 6% iron content, derived from atmospheric dust that arrived from Africa. Actually, the various Pleistocene-age carbonate formations within the Miami and Key Largo Limestones are defined by similar crusts, making these features significant stratigraphic markers.

Finally, near Boca Raton, the Miami Limestone interfin- gers with the Anastasia Formation, which extends north- ward along the east coast of Florida.

Wetlands Florida is well-known for its freshwater wetlands, which result from the state’s flat topography, low elevation, high water table, poor surface drainage, and humid subtropical climate. Starting with the Okefenokee Swamp mostly in south Georgia (which is partially drained by Florida’s Suwannee River) and extending south to where the Everglades discharges into Florida Bay, wetlands commonly dominate the state’s scenery (Figure Florida.20). Originally viewed as useless swampland that provided breeding areas for disease-carrying mosquitoes, these areas once were drained by digging canals. But wetlands

� Figure Florida.20 Distribution of rivers and wetlands in Florida. Wetlands, including the Everglades, are numerous in Florida because of its flat terrain, restricted drainage, low elevation, and humid climate.

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now are viewed as critically important environments and ecological habitats and are mostly protected.

From a geologic perspective, wetlands are modern equivalents of ancient coal-forming environments. Geologists have used the lower coastal plain of the south- eastern United States, including north Florida, as a modern analog to explain the abundant Carboniferous coal deposits mined in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Other important wetlands are associated with slow-moving streams such as the Withlacoochee River (Green Swamp) and the Kissimmee River. Finally, wetlands are potentially important archeo- logical sites because of the anoxic conditions (good for preservation) found in their organic-rich sediments.

A discussion of the geology of Florida would not be com- plete without mention of the Everglades, a unique wetland environment on Earth and the third largest national park (by area) in the lower 48 states (Figures Florida.21a and Florida.21b). The Everglades is better known for its ecology and its wildlife than as a geologic environment. Most likely, such “rivers of grass” were probably more common in the geo- logic past, particularly during the extreme sea-level highstands that flooded low-lying subtropical and tropical continents.

The Everglades, 60 kilometers wide and 160 kilometers long, dominates the geography of south Florida. A southward- moving sheet of freshwater supports mainly saw grass (Cladium jamaicense). The Everglades is laterally confined to south-central peninsular Florida by higher terrain on both the eastern and the western margins. It rests on a broad, flat, nearly featureless carbonate rock surface, which formed the floor of a shelf lagoon during the last inter- glacial event approximately 125 kya, when sea level was about 6 meters higher than it is today. When subaerially exposed during the ensuing sea-level lowstand, the carbon- ate sediments deposited on the seafloor became cemented and formed the base of the Everglades.

The Everglades is an unusual environment, which required a confluence of unusual conditions to form: (1) a broad, low-relief gently sloping surface; (2) a surface posi- tioned nearly at sea level so that there is a broad transition between nonmarine and marine environments; (3) a surface flow of water laterally confined by elevated margins; (4) suffi- cient rainfall; (5) no substantive vertical exchange with permeable units beneath to reduce surface runoff; and (6) oxidation of organic matter so that wide, expansive, and highly water-tolerant grasslands grow rather than heavily wooded swamps. However, in some depressions in the Everglades, approximately 4 meters of mangrove peat have accumulated. But, for the most part, over great expanses, the Pleistocene limestone karst surface is exposed. In some areas, this karst limestone surface is overlain by up to 1 meter of calcite mud, the precipitate of carbonate-charged freshwater.

The Everglades has been greatly affected by human development in south Florida. About 50% of the original area of the Everglades has been converted to agriculture. The diversion of water flow, the heavy use of fertilizers, and the introduction of exotic plant and animal species form the greatest environmental threats. Additionally, the specter

18 Geology of Florida

of rising sea level caused by global climate change could convert this vast wetland into a shallow, open sea with only a 1- to 2-meter rise, which some predict might happen in the next 100 to 200 years. The Everglades is at a crucial point in its history: it appears that human activity, either directly or indirectly, may cause this unique environment to shift upslope further landward or even disappear.

Coastlines Florida has one of the longest coastlines in the United States, and it is this feature, perhaps, that draws so many people to the state (see cover photo). Beautiful beaches (see Figures Florida.22 and Florida.23) have made Florida’s coastline world famous, but, surprisingly, as much as 33% of the coast consists of sand-barren, rocky, and vegetated

� Figure Florida.21

Oblique aerial photo of western portion of Everglades revealing wide expanses of very shallow water and plant communities typical of this environment.

Digital orthophoto quarter quadrangle (DOQQ) image of the Everglades. This freshwater “river of grass” is confined laterally by topographically higher areas so that flow is directed to the south into Florida Bay—a very low-energy carbonate mud-dominated environment. This is one of the most unusual geologic and biologic environments on Earth.



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(marsh and mangrove) zones. From the western Panhandle to Key West, and up to Jacksonville, there is enormous coastal variability resulting from differences in sediment supply, biologic activity, wave energy, tidal range, storm fre- quency, and climate. Pensacola and Key West enjoy signifi- cantly different climates and therefore significantly different coastal environments, ranging from washover-dominated sandy barrier islands along the northern Gulf coast to Pleistocene-age reefs and lithified submarine carbonate sand bores that form the Keys. Figure Florida.24 shows the five primary coastal compartments that define Florida’s coast- line. These compartments can be divided into two major coastal types: (1) barrier islands or (2) plant dominated. The coastline of the islands forming the Keys is generally highly variable, ranging from rocky and small pocket beaches to plant-dominated coastline, and is not included in this scheme. No barrier islands occur in the Florida Keys.

Barrier Islands Florida’s barrier islands constitute the single largest coastline category and dominate the state’s east coast. Barrier islands are the coastal features that are the most heavily affected by development, and they also are extremely vulnerable to chronic erosion, storm-surge flooding, and inlet migration. Hence most coastal engineering structures are found along barrier-island coastlines. Managing coastal development is a huge environmental issue in Florida. Also, densely populated areas pose large risks during hurricane season, for both people and infrastructure.

The barrier islands are geologically young features— most formed in the past few thousand years, probably as a result of reduced rate of sea-level rise in the late Holocene. It was during this time, when there was an abundance of sand, that barrier islands prograded, or built seaward, by creating beach ridges and widened. These islands eventually supported maritime forests. Sanibel Island is an outstanding example of this process, with its multiple beach ridges covered with trees (Figure Florida.25a). Where local or regional sand supply was reduced, washover-dominated barrier islands formed. These narrow, topographically lower islands were (and are) more frequently flooded by storm surge, which causes water-carrying sand to flow from the seaward side into the back-barrier lagoon. Through this process these islands migrate or transgress landward. Barrier island migration poses huge problems for human habitation and development because of the seaward-side sand loss. Santa Rosa Island along the Panhandle is a good example of a washover-dominated barrier island (Figure Florida.25b). Where heavily developed, many of these islands support lengthy seawalls and require frequent sand replenishment.

Florida.4 Emergence of Modern Florida 19

� Figure Florida.22 Typical “Chamber of Commerce” beach scene in Florida. Sands are almost entirely composed of quartz.

� Figure Florida.23 Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) that is commonly found in low energy coastal environments of central Florida. These plants dominate the Ten Thousand Islands coastal zone of southwest Florida.

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� Figure Florida.24 Map showing five major coastal sectors of Florida. Most people know about Florida’s famous white, sandy beaches, but approximately 33% of Florida’s coastline is dominated by plants and mud.

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20 Geology of Florida

� Figure Florida.25

Image of Santa Rosa Island on the western Florida Panhandle coast. This is a washover-dominated island that is easily flooded during storm surges. The flooding erodes sand from the seaward side and deposits it on the lagoon side, causing the entire island to migrate landward.

DOQQ image of Sanibel Island—a seaward-prograding, beach ridge–and maritime forest–dominated barrier island. This type of island has an abundance of sand because it lies at the end of a longshore transport system.



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Florida.4 Emergence of Modern Florida 21

� Figure Florida.26 Digital orthophoto quarter quadrangle image of Caladesi Island. This is an impor- tant barrier island to visit because it displays a range of geologic and biologic environments.

The length of a barrier island is defined by its tidal inlets, which allow tidal waters in lagoons to be exchanged with the open ocean. The inlets are unstable because of the longshore transport of sand in the surf zone moving along adjacent beaches, causing inlets to migrate laterally or fill in. Stabilizing the inlets has also posed an enormous coastal management issue—one that is controversial and costly.

An excellent example of a barrier island that demonstrates a variety of geomorphologic and environmental features is Caladesi Island in Pinellas County (Figure Florida.26). The island is a state park accessible only by boat. The island sup- ports a back-barrier mangrove, a maritime forest on beach ridges (former dune ridges), and actively forming vegetated dunes. It also features a closed, or filled, inlet to the south and an active inlet to the north. The north end of this island has been overwashed by storm surges.

Florida’s barrier-island coast also contains two distinct major geomorphologic features: (1) the Apalachicola River Delta, rimmed by beach ridge–dominated barrier islands projecting out into the Gulf of Mexico, and (2) the Cape Canaveral cuspate foreland that projects out into the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast (Figure Florida.27a and Florida.27b). Aerial and space imagery clearly shows that cuspate forelands formed in this location during previous sea-level highstands, suggesting that this coastal feature might be controlled by underlying antecedent topography.

Plant-Dominated Coastlines—Big Bend Coastline Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast has two large sectors that lack sufficient sand to form barrier islands. Additionally, both have very low wave energy. Hence they are dominated by plants. In the Big Bend area, karstified Eocene to Oligocene limestone crops out (see Figure Florida.12) and supports a thin muddy marsh dominated by Juncus roemerianus—or black needle rush (Figure Florida.28a and Florida.28b). This area receives sufficiently frequent freezes to make survival of mangroves impossible. Karst bedrock high areas in the marsh support small islands of trees called marsh hammocks. Offshore, these bedrock nubs support oyster reefs—some of these massive shell beds extend for tens of kilometers in the nearshore zone parallel to the marsh coast. Marsh tidal creeks commonly follow rectilinear joint patterns in the bedrock rather than meandering freely. Because of the very low topographic gradient on the limestone bedrock surface (1/5,000 ratio), the Big Bend area has very low wave energy and may be viewed as an incipient epicontinental sea.

Plant-Dominated Coastlines—Ten Thousand Islands South of the west-central barrier islands (extending just north of Tampa Bay to just south of Naples) are the Ten Thousand Islands, which are mangrove islands (Figure Florida.29). Mangroves outcompete marsh grasses in warmer climates, so this area appears vastly differently than the Big Bend coast.

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22 Geology of Florida

� Figure Florida.27

DOQQ image of the Cape Canaveral cuspate foreland showing the modern feature and a Pleistocene-age counterpart just landward. A cuspate foreland along this part of Florida’s east coast has probably been present over many sea-level fluctuations. Its location may be controlled be underlying antecedent topography or spatial changes in offshore wave energy.

DOQQ image of St. Vincent Island—an excellent example of a beach ridge– dominated barrier island. This is one of the barrier islands rimming the Apalachicola River Delta. These barrier islands occur here because of the abundance of sand once provided by the river delta.



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Florida.4 Emergence of Modern Florida 23

� Figure Florida.28

DOQQ image of detail of a marsh-dominated coast illustrating numerous marsh islands, oyster reefs, marsh peninsulas, and extensive tidal creeks (Crystal Bay).

DOQQ image of Florida’s Big Bend marsh-dominated coastline. The coastline is low wave energy and is starved of sand-size sediment—hence no barrier islands and few beaches have developed. Instead, the irregular karst surface on exposed limestone supports a thin, open-marine marsh. The karst topography controls the distribution of marsh islands, marsh hammocks, and tidal creeks.



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24 Geology of Florida

The Ten Thousand Islands coast is very low wave energy. It is a mud-dominated area that does not have a dominant karst limestone surface; rather, it is underlain by a 3- to 4-meter layer of mangrove peat. Numerous mangrove islands are sep- arated by tidal channels. To the south, the islands merge into continuous mangrove strands. There are numerous, morpho- logically complex open bays that are partially filled with oys- ter reefs. Vermetid gastropod reefs are also present. This coastal system started to form about 3 kya on a low gradient shelf and has prograded approximately 8 kilometers seaward at some sites.

Coral Reefs The coral reefs seaward of the Florida Keys form the only reef tract within the 48 contiguous states and therefore are extremely popular with tourists and for scientific study because of their accessibility. This reef tract extends west of the Keys and becomes a series of distinct reefal banks (Dry Tortugas, Tortugas Bank, and Riley’s Hump). Drilling into this reef tract reveals that its morphology is controlled by ear- lier reefs that formed during the late Pleistocene sea-level highstands (Figures Florida.30 and Florida.31a). Most mod- ern Holocene reefs are only a few meters thick at most, and some of these modern reefs display classic spur-and-groove

morphology. Additionally, the outer reef supports the tradi- tional zones of a typical ecological reef—back reef, reef flat, reef crest, reef front, and fore reef. These ecological zones contain a specifically defined mix of coral-reef species and

� Figure Florida.29 DOQQ image of the Ten Thousand Islands coastline along the southwest Florida low wave energy and sand-size sediment–starved coastline. Here, mangroves dominate and the influence from karst topography is greatly reduced from that of the Big Bend open-marine, marsh coastline.


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� Figure Florida.30 High-resolution seismic profile across the outer main reef system that lies seaward of the Florida Keys. There are multiple reef lines in places called outlier reefs. The numbers are radiocarbon ages and show that the Holocene coral cover (formed 9 to 8 kya) is relatively thin and perched on much older Pleistocene-age reefs (formed 100 to 80 kya).

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Florida.4 Emergence of Modern Florida 25

� Figure Florida.31

Multibeam color image of the southern portion of Pulley Ridge, revealing a drowned barrier island that has been preserved because of rapid cementation of carbonate sands.

Multibeam color image showing detailed bathymetry of Riley’s Hump reef bank.



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other benthic assemblages. Behind the more massive outer reefs are thousands of smaller patch reefs that were construct- ed by a less diverse coral fauna.

The Keys coral reefs, unfortunately, have experienced widespread environmental degradation. Several factors have contributed to this: (1) extensive human infrastructure introducing excessive nutrients and turbidity; (2) possibly increased sea surface temperatures; (3) possibly increased ultraviolet (UV) exposure; and (4) diseases introduced, per- haps, from African dust events. Additionally, even recent ocean acidification may have an impact on the living coral community far into the future, but this is highly speculative at the moment. There are now widespread zones where no living stony corals remain. In these areas, coral has been replaced by soft coral, algal, and sponge benthic communities.

A recent discovery much farther to the west in much deeper water (65 to 75 meters) revealed a healthy light- dependent coral reef mantling a cemented paleoshoreline— Pulley Ridge (Figures Florida.31b, and Florida.32). Here, rather than having inimical shelf waters, this portion of the platform is bathed by oligotrophic waters from Loop Current incursions, thus allowing the deepest light-dependent coral reef on the U.S. continental shelf to thrive.

Section Florida.4 Summary ● The Florida Keys are made up of the following three types of rock: (1) reef rock—Key Largo Limestone; (2) oolitic grainstone—Miami Limestone; and (3) paleo- sols, caliche, and duricrust.

● Florida has so many wetlands because of its flat topog- raphy, low elevation (near sea level), restricted drainage and high water table, and humid climate. The low, regional shelf gradient and sand-starved areas have pro- duced marsh- and mangrove-dominated coastlines that lack beaches and barrier islands. Both are mud-dominated sedimentary systems. The Big Bend marsh coast is situ- ated on a karst carbonate rock surface that controls much of the coastal morphology. To the south, the Ten Thousand Island coastline is dominated by many man- grove islands. Mangrove plants are extremely sensitive to freezes, so they rarely extend north of the Tampa Bay area. Carbonate rock does not significantly affect the coastal morphology along this coastline.

● If sea level rose a couple of meters, much of the low- lying Everglades would be flooded by seawater, which would form a broad, shallow, open sea.

● Washover-dominated barrier islands are topographi- cally low and are easily flooded during storm surges. This allows sand from the seaward beach to be trans- ported across the island. These islands migrate landward into their lagoons in this manner. Beach ridge–dominated

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26 Geology of Florida

� Figure Florida.32 Bottom photo of the typically very thin, platy, light-dependent living corals on the Pulley Ridge drowned barrier- island shoreline. These corals are growing in 65 to 75 meters of water, making this the deepest known light-dependent coral reef on the U.S. continental shelf.

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barrier islands have an abundance of sand brought to them in the longshore transport system, build dunes, are topographically higher and prograde seaward.

● The topography created by former reef structures affects the formation of new coral reefs on the Florida shelf. Also, the marine environmental conditions (warm, clear, normal salinity) are ideal for coral reef development.

● Highly turbid, nutrient-rich marine waters that have large changes in temperature hinder development of coral reefs. Excess human infrastructure leads to pollution of seawater, which also harms the reefs.

● The development of the deep coral reef at Pulley Ridge resulted from a hard substrate in the form of a cemented- drowned beach ridge–dominated barrier island that was frequently bathed by very clear, oligotrophic waters.

Acknowledgments I would like to thank all of my graduate students who have worked on various aspects of Florida’s geology, particularly the marsh coastlines, the continental shelf, the paleoshore- lines, and the coral reefs. Special thanks go to Dr. Stanley D. Locker, whose expertise, imagination, and effort were essential to the success of most of the fieldwork our group performed in Florida. Stan is simply amazing. I would like to thank many people with whom I have worked over the years or with whom I have discussed Florida geology issues, especially Richard (Skip) A. Davis, Stan Riggs, Bob Halley, Gene Shinn, Kevin Cunningham, Tom Missimer, Pamela Hallock, Jeff Ryan, Hank Mullins, Conrad Neumann, Charlie Paull, Don McNeill, Dave Mallinson, Terry Edgar, Jack Kindinger, Dan Belknap, Tom Scott, Gren Draper, Hal Wanless, Dick Buffler, Bob Ginsburg, Barbara Lidz,

Ellen Prager, and Walt Jaap. The research performed was funded mostly by NOAA-Sea Grant, NOAA-NURC, ONR, USGS-St. Petersburg, and FL-DEP. Ann Tihansky at the USGS has been a great help. The USGS provided a number of images, as did the Florida Wildlife Research Institute and the Florida Geological Survey. Gary Maddox, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, pro- vided an important image. Thanks go to Mr. Tim Taylor of the R/V Tiburon, Inc., for use of the underwater photos of Pulley Ridge. I thank Dr. David Palandro and Rene Baumstark for providing the vertical images (DOQQ) of various sections of Florida. I thank the Florida Geological Survey for much advice and assistance.

I thank two anonymous reviewers as well as Drs. Don McNeill, Thomas Scott, Mark Stewart, Grenville Draper, and Eugene Shinn for reviewing sections of this chapter.

Review Workbook ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS SUMMARY Florida.1 Introduction � What is the link between natural scenery and geology? All topography on Earth, from ocean basins and mountain ranges to small sinkholes, is controlled by past geological processes. Determining what those processes have been and when they occurred explains how the shape of the Earth’s surface (and therefore scenery with plants) was created.

� Why is geology important? Geology provides us with tools to understand the Earth’s past so that we can protect the present and prepare for the future. It is a science that allows us to understand and mitigate hazards posed by Earth’s processes, to find raw materials needed to drive our modern society,

and to develop techniques to minimize human impact on natural systems.

� What are the primary geomorphologic features that dominate Florida’s topography? The primary geomorphologic features of Florida’s topography include paleoshorelines, beach ridges, terraces, karst-formed lakes and depres- sions, rivers, and wetlands.

Florida.2 State of Florida and the Florida Platform � For coastal or island states, does geology end at the coastline, and why or why not? No, stratigraphic sections and geologic structures continue seaward beneath the coastline, shelf and slope, ultimately reaching some other geologic boundary or transition.

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� What geologic features define the Florida Platform? Faulted margins resulting from rifting or transcurrent motion define the original Florida Platform before collision with the Antilles volcanic island arc. The sedimentary cover and major morphologic features are commonly controlled by the antecedent topography created by these structural features.

� What is a prominent former sea-level indicator? Two examples are preserved shorelines above or below present-day sea level and now-dead, former shallow-water coral reefs that lie in deep water.

Florida.3 A Brief Geologic History of Florida � What are the three fundamental components of the Florida Platform? The three fundamental components of the Florida Platform are (1) basement rocks of mostly Paleozoic age (some Mesozoic); (2) carbonate rocks of Mesozoic and Cenozoic age; and (3) siliciclastic sediments, primarily quartz sand, that arrived in the Cenozoic.

� Where did the basement rocks come from? Most of the basement rocks were part of the former Gondwana. Florida’s basement rocks were situated between South America and northwest Africa. Collectively, they formed an exotic terrain because they were not once part of North American basement rocks.

� What are the four basic ingredients needed to construct a carbonate platform? The following four ingredients are needed to construct a carbonate platform:

1. An extensive, elevated basement surface. 2. A tropical or subtropical setting (low latitude).

3. Marine sedimentary environments that are protected from continental margin influences. 4. Early, rapid subsidence that provides the required accommodation space for thick carbonate stratigraphic units to fill in.

Florida.4 Emergence of Modern Florida � What types of rocks constitute the Florida Keys? The Florida Keys are made up of the following three types of rock:

1. Reef rock—Key Largo Limestone. 2. Oolitic grainstone—Miami Limestone. 3. Paleosols, caliche, duricrust.

� Why does Florida have so many wetlands? Florida has so many wetlands because of its flat topography, low ele- vation (near sea level), restricted drainage and high water table, and humid climate.

� Why are there significant plant-dominated shorelines in Florida? The low, regional shelf gradient and sand-starved areas have produced marsh and mangrove-dominated coastlines that lack beaches and barrier islands. Both are mud-dominated sedimentary systems. The Big Bend marsh coast is situated on a karst carbonate rock surface that controls much of the coastal morphology. To the south, the Ten Thousand Island coastline is dominated by many mangrove islands. Mangrove plants are extremely sensitive to freezes, so they rarely extend north of the Tampa Bay area. Carbonate rock does not significantly affect the coastal morphology along this coastline.

ESSENTIAL TERMS TO KNOW Accommodation space – the space in which sediments can accu- mulate, for example, a very shallow continental shelf has little accom- modation space (little water depth) in which sediments can build vertically.

Anhydrite – evaporite mineral anhydrous calcium sulfate (CaSO4). Antecedent topography – topography created from a previous geologic event that might control follow-on geologic processes and sedimentation.

Antillean Orogeny – tectonic collision between the leading edge of the northeast migrating Caribbean Plate supporting a volcanic island arc system and a section of the passive margin of the North American Plate supporting a carbonate platform system (Yucatan–Florida–Bahamas Platform complex). This collision occurred largely between 56 mya and 50 mya. The result of the colli- sion eventually created the modern Greater Antilles Islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. See Orogeny. Aquifer – a section of rock that is permeable and water bearing, from which groundwater can be easily extracted.

Artesian conditions – water that will flow upward out of a well without need for pumping as a result of an aquifer being confined by an impermeable cover.

Bathymetry – measurement of depth below sea level in the ocean. Beach ridges – a continuous line of sand dunes along a coastline that commonly is vegetated. They form when an abundance of sand is introduced to the beach by the longshore transport system, and the sand dries out on the beach during low tide. Onshore winds then blow the sand inland to be trapped by the first line of vegetation. Here is where the beach ridge (actually a dune line) begins to form.

Bolide – a very large impactor. The United States Geological Survey uses the term to mean a generic, large crater-forming projectile “to imply

that we do not know the precise nature of the impacting body . . . whether it is a rocky or metallic asteroid, or an icy comet, for example”.

Carbonate factory – general term for a sedimentary depositional system that generates carbonate sediments.

Chemosynthetic or Chemosynthesis – a biologic conversion of carbon molecules such as CO2 and nutrients into organic matter using oxidation of inorganic molecules. The inorganic molecules include hydrogen sulfide or methane as the source of energy rather than sunlight in photosynthesis.

Collision margin – continental landmass on a plate boundary that has collided with another plate boundary. The west coast of South America is a good example of a modern collision margin.

Cuspate foreland – a triangular, bulbous projection on a sandy coast caused by variations in direction and magnitude of the longshore transport of sediment.

Epicontinental sea – a large body of shallow salt water that overlies a continent. Hudson Bay is a good example.

Evaporite – minerals formed by the evaporation of water—generally seawater that becomes brine and the crystals form in the brine.

Exotic terrain – a body of continental crust that has been imported from another source area.

Facies – body of rock or sediment with specific or distinctive characteristics.

Feldspar – group of rock-forming minerals making up 60% of the Earth’s crust. They are K, Al, Ca, Na silicates.

Flexural loading – elastic response of crust when mass in form of rocks, sediments, or water is placed on it.

Fracture zone – linear feature in ocean crust resulting from motion along a transform fault.

Graben – a normal-fault-bounded linear basin.

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Grainstone – a carbonate rock consisting of cemented, sand-size carbonate grains.

Gypsum – a common evaporite mineral (CaSO4-2H2O). Hypersaline brines – waters that are super-enriched in dissolved salts.

Inimical shelf waters – seawater on the shelf that is harmful to reef growth because it is too warm, too cold, too nutrient rich, or too turbid.

Intraplate stress – tectonic forces transmitted within and inside a single tectonic plate sometimes deforming the plate interior.

Isostatic adjustment – a response of the crust when a load is placed on it or removed; that is, the crust moves downward when an ice sheet accumulates on it during an ice age and rebounds upward when the ice sheet melts.

K/T boundary – time boundary between Cretaceous (abbreviated as “K” by convention) and Tertiary (T) occurring 65.5 mya. It is widely accepted that an extraterrestrial object (see Bolide) impacted the Earth, forming a huge crater beneath the modern Yucatan. It is also widely accepted that this event caused mass extinction of life, including extinction of the dinosaurs.

Lithology – a type of rock, e.g., granite, ooid grainstone. Lithostatic load – a mass of rock or sediment placed on a section of crust (this can create an isostatic adjustment).

Longshore sand transport – movement of sand in the surf zone along the beach by breaking waves.

Mixing zone – a groundwater condition whereby freshwater and saltwater mix along a boundary generally in coastal areas. Where this occurs, dissolution of carbonate rock is accelerated.

Mogotes – geomorphologic features encountered in the Caribbean, especially in Cuba. They are hills (approximately 300 meters high) of limestone and represent mature karst topography. They are characterized by their rounded, towerlike structure.

Ocean acidification – decreasing pH or increasing acidity of seawater caused when elevated CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed into the ocean.

Oceanic anoxic event (OAE) – when the Earth’s ocean became depleted of oxygen beneath the surface waters. OAEs occurred during periods of high CO2 and warm temperatures and caused mass extinctions. The middle Cretaceous was a time of multiple OAEs.

Oceanic crust – denser portion of the Earth’s crust underlying ocean basins consisting of magnesium-rich and iron-rich silicate minerals. Extrusive rocks are basalts; intrusive rocks are gabbros.

Oligotrophic – water that is lacking in nutrients and therefore very clear easily transmitting light.

Ooids/oolitic – sand-size carbonate grains that have a nucleus (e.g., skeletal fragment, fecal pellet) coated by layers of additional carbonate mineral. Oolitic means a mixture of ooids and other carbonate sand-size sediment.

Orogeny – a mountain-building event caused by plate motion, leading to a collision of the edges of two plates.

Oxidation – loss of electrons by a molecule, atom, or ion. Carbon can be oxidized to make carbon dioxide (CO2).

Paleosol – a fossil soil horizon sometimes lithified to a form a distinctive crust.

Permeable – an ability of rocks or sediments to transmit fluid. Aquifers are permeable, so groundwater easily flows through them.

Phosphate – a charged group of atoms, or an ion made up of a phosphorus atom and four oxygen atoms (PO4) and carries three neg- ative charges. The phosphate ion combines with various atoms and molecules within living organisms to form many different compounds essential to life. It is the common name for sedimentary deposits containing grains having minerals with the element phosphorus (P) in their structure.

Phosphorite – a sediment or rock with high concentration of phosphate.

Photic zone – the depth of water within which photosynthesis can occur. This is highly dependent on water clarity, but generally is less than 200 meters deep.

Photosynthesis – a biochemical process in which light energy (sunlight) is turned into chemical energy by using CO2 and H2O to form organic matter and releasing O2.

Phytoplankton – group of microscopic plants that grow in the surface waters of the ocean as a result of photosynthesis. Phytoplankton is the base of the ocean’s food chain.

Potentiometric surface – a potentiometric surface is the imaginary line where a given reservoir of fluid will “equalize out to” if allowed to flow vertically in an aquifer. Potentiometric surfaces explain how phenomena like artesian wells occur.

Primary productivity – the production of plants or algae in the surface waters by photosynthesis.

Prograded – building seaward, such as prograding river deltas or prograding shorelines.

Ramp – a carbonate shelf that gradually deepens further offshore. The west Florida shelf, Campeche Bank, and the Persian Gulf are good examples.

Rectilinear fracture pattern – a fracture pattern in rocks oriented as right angles.

Rimmed margin – a carbonate shelf or platform that is flat and shallow and has an elevated depositional rim, such as coral reefs and/or islands seaward of which the platform drops off steeply into much deeper water. The Great Barrier Reef or windward margins of the Bahamas are good examples.

Rudistid – a type of bivalve (mollusk, now extinct) dominating and forming reefs in the Mesozoic. All reefs are not necessarily made of corals.

Sediment gravity flow – sedimentary process or deposit formed by sediment-laden, higher density bottom currents flowing downslope.

Siliciclastic – sediment that has a mineralogy containing silicon. Quartz is the dominant siliciclastic sediment.

Spur-and-groove morphology – a series of ridges and ravines oriented downslope along the high-energy, seaward side of a reef.

Stratigraphic succession – a vertical section of sedimentary rocks (one sedimentary rock formation resting on top and therefore succeeding the one below it).

Subduction zone – an area on Earth where two tectonic plates meet and move toward one another, with one sliding underneath the other and moving down into the mantle, at rates typically measured in centimeters per year.

Transcurrent – a strike-slip, or horizontal motion along a large-scale fault system.

Transform fault – a special type of strike-slip fault that terminates abruptly at spreading centers.

Transitional crust – a type of the Earth’s crust formed along rifted margins that includes extension and mixing of continental and oceanic crust.

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Tsunami – a series of waves created as the seafloor is rapidly displaced vertically. Earthquakes, mass movements (underwater landslides), some volcanic eruptions, large asteroid impacts, and testing of nuclear weapons at sea all have the potential to generate a tsunami.

Unconformity – a buried erosion surface separating two rock mass- es or strata of different ages, indicating that sediment deposition was not continuous.

Upwelling – water that is brought up from the depth by currents. Generally, these waters are enriched in nutrients.

Vermetid – a marine gastropod (snail) that forms calcareous shell tubes in masses and creates reefs.

Volcanic island arc – a chain of volcanic islands formed by plate tectonics as an oceanic tectonic plate subducts under another tectonic plate and produces magma.

Washover – sand deposited on a barrier island type of coastline dur- ing a storm.

Wilson cycle – the opening and closing of an ocean basin.

What fundamentally controls the shape of a state’s coastline over various geologic time periods?

How did the Gulf of Mexico form?

Explain why there are two components of Florida’s basement rocks.

Why would a wide, shallow carbonate platform produce evaporite minerals?

What is meant by platform drowning?

What is the difference between a rimmed margin and a ramp?

What is the Greenhouse Earth?

How was the Yucatan–Florida–Bahamas Platform complex deformed?

What might have been the effects on the Florida Platform resulting from the bolide impact at the K-T boundary?

What ingredients are necessary for extensive internal and surficial karst features to develop?

Do springs always produce cool freshwater?

Of what importance is the dissolution of carbonate rocks in the Florida Platform?

Where does the quartz sediment originate?

How and when were quartz-rich sediments introduced onto the Florida Platform?

Which events converged to produce phosphate deposition?

Why were there so many large marine predators in the Miocene?

Why are marine and terrestrial fossils mixed together?

What are some of the environmental problems associated with mining phosphate?

If sea level rose a couple of meters, what would the Everglades look like?

What is the primary difference between a washover-dominated barrier island and a beach ridge–dominated barrier island?

What is a fundamental control on the distribution of coral reefs on the Florida shelf?

Review Questions

Bryan, J. R., Scott, T. M., & Means, G. H. (2008). Roadside geology of Florida. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing.

Cape Canaveral National Seashore:

Everglades National Park:

Florida Association of Professional Geologists:

Florida Department of Environmental Protection:

Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute:

Florida Geological Survey:

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary:

Florida Museum of Natural History:

Florida’s Water Management Districts: secretary/watman/

Mulberry Phosphate Museum, Mulberry, FL, 863-425-2823.

U.S. Geological Survey in Florida:

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park: http://www.

Florida Resources

1. Calculate the average rate of subsidence of the edge of the western margin of the Florida Platform since the time of the middle Cretaceous unconformity or sequence boundary. You will need to determine the depth below modern-day sea level of this surface and the age of the middle Cretaceous (answer is in one of the figures). If sea level was approximately 200 m higher at that point in time, how would it factor into your calculation? Now, assuming the western margin of Florida Platform was in shallow water at the time of the middle Cretaceous, how fast would it take to drown this area given a photic zone that is 200 m deep? What other factors would have to be considered in this calculation?

2. If the west Florida shelf has a gradient of 1:3000, what was the average rate of shoreline movement (horizontal translation) over the past 18,000 years when sea level was approximately 120 m lower than it is today as a result of the Last Glacial Maximum?

3. Using Google Earth imagery, print out a section of central peninsular Florida and map the major geomorphologic features.

Apply Your Knowledge Questions

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Geology of Florida Albert C. Hine College of Marine Science University of South Florida


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Summary of Content

The geologic past of Florida is mostly out of sight with its maximum elevation at only ~105 m (in the panhandle) and much of south Florida is virtually flat. The surface of Florida is dominated by subtle shorelines from previous sea-level high-stands, karst-generated lakes, and small river drainage basins What we see are modern geologic (and biologic) environments, some that are world famous such as the Everglades, the coral reefs, and the beaches. But, where did all of this come from? Does Florida have a geologic history other than the usual mantra about having been “derived from the sea”? If so, what events of the geologic past converged to produce the Florida we see today?

To answer these questions, this module has two objectives: (1) to provide a rapid transit through geologic time to describe the key events of Florida’s past emphasizing processes, and (2) to present the high-profile modern geologic features in Florida that have made the State a world-class destination for visitors.

About the Author Albert C. Hine is the Associate Dean and Professor in the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. He earned his A.B. from Dartmouth College; M.S. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, Columbia—all in the geological sciences. Dr. Hine is a broadly-trained geological oceanographer who has addressed sedimentary geology and stratigraphy problems from the estuarine system out to the base of slope. Along with his associates and graduate students, they have defined the response of coastal and shelf depositional systems to sea-level fluctuations, climate changes, western boundary currents, antecedent topography, and sediment supply. Specifically this includes geologic origin and evolution of submerged paleo- shorelines, reefs (relict and active), shelf sand bodies, open marine marsh systems, barrier islands, and back-barrier environments and how they might have interacted with each other in the past.

Areas of specialization for Dr. Hine include: Geologic processes and products of shallow marine sedimentary environments. Development, history, stratigraphy, and sedimentation of carbonate platforms. Coastal geology, coastal wetlands, sequence stratigraphy, interpretation of seismic reflection data and seafloor mapping and interpretation.

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Oblique aerial photograph of a barrier island (Cayo Costa) on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coastline that is actively prograding as a result of a local abundance of quartz sand. A large, complex, vegetated offshore spit system has built up on an ebb-tidal delta creating a small lagoon which may become a freshwater wetland or lake in time if sufficient sand is supplied to stabilize the spit. This photograph amply demonstrates how tidal inlets affect adjacent shorelines.

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