Petrography is a branch of geoscience focused on the description and classification of rocks, primarily by microscopic study of optical properties of minerals. A thin sliver of rock is cut from a sample, mounted on a glass slide, ground to approximately 30 microns (0.03mm), and viewed under a microscope that uses polarized light. By observing the colors produced as plain polarized light and crossed (90 degrees) polarized light shines through the minerals, petrologists can determine the minerals that comprise the sampled rock.
William "Sandy" Schenck lead a field trip through the Delaware Piedmont for the A.I. duPont High School Earth Science Class. The trip made use of the Wilmington-Western Railroad and everyone rode the railroad's "Doodle Bug." Activities included up close examinations of rock and mineral features and even "Panning for Garnets" at Brandywine Springs Park.
DGS Well Bc43-01
Along the edge of the Red Clay Creek exists a large outcrop that extends out into the stream. This rock is part of the Wissahickon Formation, with pelitic facies, ½" elongated sillimanite nodules, and disharmonic folds. The compositional layering of this rock is 1/8 – ½" of biotite rich layers alternated with fine-grained psammitic layers (not quartz-feldspar layers). Some of these layers are sheared (shear zones). The sillimanite nodules, pegmatite pods, and shear zones in this rock are all parallel to fold axes. The axial plane of these folds is 20 degrees east of north, plunges 42 degrees northeast, and dips 90 degrees. Within this large outcrop are several 2-3' layers of “rock that rings” (when hit) and are folded with petitic gneiss. This pelitic gneiss shows more intense folding while the rest of the rock is gently folded. The “rock that rings” is also peppered with small lavender garnets.
The Delaware Piedmont is but a small part of the Appalachian Mountain system that extends from Georgia to Newfoundland. This mountain system is the result of tectonic activity that took place during the Paleozoic era, between 543 and 245 million years ago. Since that time, the mountains have been continuously eroding, and their deep roots slowly rising in compensation as the overlying rocks are removed. It is surprising to find that although the Delaware Piedmont has passed through the whole series of tectonic events that formed the Appalachians, the mineralogy and structures preserved in Delaware were formed by the early event that occurred between 470 and 440 million years ago, called the Taconic orogeny.
Wissahickon gneisses and amphibolites are exposed in the railroad cut near Yorklyn. Here the rocks are unusual because the layering is accentuated by the presence of fault gouge between the layers. Fault gouge forms as movement along a fault in hard, brittle rocks crushes and grinds the rocks into a powder. Gouge was a term used by miners because they could easily "gouge" it out of the rock. Here the gouge "weathered out" leaving deep indentations that emphasize the layering and the tilt, which is to the southeast at an angle of about 45 degrees.
The Mt. Cuba Picnic Grove provides an opportunity to look at the gneisses and amphibolites of the Wissahickon Formation. The large boulders of gneiss lying beside the steps are peppered with dark-red garnets and elongated nodules of dull-white sillimanite. These sillimanite nodules (1/4" to 3/4" long) are abundant in the gneisses at Mt. Cuba and are an interesting feature of these highly metamorphosed sedimentary rocks. Alternating layers of gneisses and amphibolites crop out on the east side of the track. The gneisses show some typical upright folds and fractures. Contacts between the layers trend northeast, parallel to the regional trend of the Appalachians.
The Mt. Cuba railroad cut is narrow and deep, and much of the rock is covered with dirt and soot from the train. The rocks are interlayered gneisses and amphibolites, with gneisses predominating in the south end of the cut and amphibolites in the north end. Folding is well developed, but the angle of the sunlight as it shines on the walls of the cut will determine which of the folds will be the easiest to see. A 4" amphibolite layer outlines the fold in this part of the outcrop. Wonderful examples of the effects of rock type on folding styles can be seen in the cut and in many of the rocks piled north of the cut.
Interlayered psammitic and pelitic gneiss with amphibolite. Psammitic gneiss is a medium- to fine-grained biotite-plagioclase-quartz gneiss with or without small garnets. Contacts with pelitic gneiss are gradational. Pelitic gneiss is medium- to coarse-grained garnet-sillimanite-biotite-plagioclase-quartz gneiss. Unit has a streaked or flasered appearance owing to the segregation of garnet-sillimanite-biotite stringers that surround lenses of quartz and feldspar. Throughout, layers of fine to medium-grained amphibolite composed of plagioclase and hornblende, several inches to