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The stream net as an indicator of cryptic systematic fracturing in Louisiana

January 1, 2003

The stream net in many parts of Louisiana includes straight reaches with preferred alignment in a few directions, with some examples spanning tens of kilometers. In places the reaches form classic rectangular drainage patterns. These characteristics are obvious on maps at a variety of scales, and are recognizable on some portion of nearly every 7.5-minute quadrangle in the state, excepting those quadrangles situated entirely within the Ho??ocene coastal marshes or the Holocene flood plains of the larger rivers. Such patterns of lineaments are reminiscent of patterns associated with systematic fracturing in other regions. In Louisiana, however, verification and measurement of fractures that may exist in the vicinity of rectilinear drainage anomalies is problematic because surface deposits are comparatively young and sparsely exposed, and tend, especially near waterways, to be heavily weathered and vegetated. An indirect approach to evaluating the potential influence on drainage by fracturing involves evaluating the frequency distribution of stream-course orientations based on its degree of similarity with that of the strikes of previously mapped or reported fractures (faults and/or joints). A rose diagram of orientation frequencies for the stream net of the entire state, created utilizing a publicly available line dataset processed into 100-m segments (N 290,000), shows a nonrandom distribution with three visually identifiable trends: the strongest, oriented essentially N-S; a subsidiary trend oriented N20??-30??W; and a weak trend oriented N80??-90??W. The entire population of orientations yields a mean direction of N17.5??W ?? 4.2?? with a probability of 95 percent. The strike frequencies of mapped faults show little correspondence with these trends. This suggests, if mapped faults are at least representative of actual faults, that insofar as apparent lineaments reflect structure and not the influence of a south-southeasterly regional drainage gradient, they predominantly reveal the influence of joints. These could reflect either a Quaternary stress regime, or propagation in young sediment of a structural pattern in underlying older strata. The data available at present do not compel either interpretation, though in south Louisiana at least, where reactivated early Tertiary growth faults have surface expression that in places is juxtaposed with differently oriented drainage lineaments, propagation of a preexisting pattern from depth appears plausible. Widespread systematic fracturing in this predominantly Quaternary coastal-plain setting could have important implications for groundwater flow and for other processes that depend substantially on permeability.

Publication Year 2003
Title The stream net as an indicator of cryptic systematic fracturing in Louisiana
Authors R.P. McCulloh
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Southeastern Geology
Index ID 70026088
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse