ABSTRACT

Calcium bentonite mined in Smith County, Mississippi, has been reported in numerous publications to be derived from the weathering of volcanic ash. These interpretations were based on the bentonite having similar properties to bentonites actually formed from volcanic precursors. No recent detailed stratigraphic mapping in combination with modern laboratory analyses had been conducted for this area. Calcium bentonite, found at Olmstead, Illinois, in contrast, formed in situ from the weathering of biotite, glauconite, quartz, and other materials found in shallow calcareous marine deposits. Detailed stratigraphic mapping in Smith County in 2011 was carried out by Mississippi State University as part of a proposed surface reservoir study. The mapping, utilizing GPS and continuous sonic core samples, indicated that calcium bentonite was present and similarly formed by the in situ weathering of calcareous, glauconitic, marine marl in several formations in the Oligocene Vicksburg Group. The bentonite was not restricted to one stratigraphic interval as would be the case for a true ashfall deposit. Additional research conducted at Mississippi State University and more recently by others confirmed that the bentonite was formed by weathering and contemporaneous microbial action of the calcareous glauconitic marls. No volcanic ash was detected in any of the samples tested. The preponderance of other material present in the Smith County bentonite renders the presence of minute amounts of volcanic detritus volumetrically insignificant in the formation of the clay mass. A conceptual model is presented showing how the bentonite was formed and why it is restricted to this small area of the Oligocene outcrop.

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