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Topography of W.Va. was sculpted by water

In preparation for our summer science programs at Kump Education Center, I asked Dr. Jim Van Gundy to help us explain the role of water in forming rocks.

To summarize the geological processes he was describing he said, “The Topography of West Virginia Was Sculpted by Water.”

This succinct statement is a poetic distillation of processes that took enormous amounts of water working over eons to carve out the wonders we can see today in West Virginia..

The earliest Appalachian Mountains were caused by movement of the earth’s crust 400 to 500 million years ago, but water eroded those mountains until they were nearly leveled. Then about 50 to 70 million years ago another period of eruptions lifted up the mountains that water is working to erode now.

Creeks and rivers run in all directions throughout the state of West Virginia whittling away at the various rocks that offer a history lesson about what was here long before recorded time. Seneca Rocks stands as our most beautiful and best known formation of Tuscarora sandstone. This rough stone reaches high above the ridge where it first pushed up from the ocean floor.

Both the Seneca and Tuscarora tribes lived near these dynamic rock formations in Pennsylvania and Maryland as well as West Virginia. US soldiers trained there for steep mountain climbing during World War II.

Bear Heaven and Dolly Sods also offer wonderful rock climbing opportunities for children and adults who do not have extensive training and proper equipment for steeper climbs.

Nearby tourists can see Seneca or Smoke Hole Caverns where water drips leaving mineral deposits hanging from the ceilings of the caves. The pointed formations called stalactites help to build up stalagmites growing mounds of mineral deposits on the bottom of the cave.  

West Virginia is also known for rocks that serve industrial purposes like coal, limestone and sandstone. Coal is formed when dead forests decay into peat and become converted into coal by the heat and tons of pressure under water and deep burial over millions of years. Water provides much of the pressure that makes this process work.

At the end of our lesson about the ways water impacts rock formations in West Virginia, students will go into the yard to discover a Septarian nodule from Petersburg, West Virginia.

It looks like a big brown muffin about 12-15 inches in diameter. Septarian rocks are formed after a dead animal is trapped and compressed in shale or volcanic material.

When the animal decays, water and sediment fill the void and harden like concrete.

This curious-looking muffin rock is a modest reminder that water is always working to change the rocks of our earth.

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