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Volcanic Ash

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Volcanic ash, a material of many and varied uses, occurs in small deposits widely distributed in central and western Kansas (Fig. 1). It has been mined commercially in Kansas for nearly 50 years and it is estimated that approximately 2,000,000 tons have been produced from more than 35 pits. The total reserves of unmined volcanic ash in Kansas are estimated on inadequate data to exceed 20 million tons. In appearance in outcrops and pits (Pls. 1, 2, 3) volcanic ash is white to light pearly gray, locally with tints of yellow or red; it consists predominantly of small particles of rock glass with a composition similar to that of rhyolite; the particles or shards are generally less than 1 mm across and are commonly more or less compacted--at a few places they are cemented together by calcium carbonate. The deposits are of limited areal extent and range in thickness from a few inches to more than 30 feet.

Figure 1--Map of Kansas showing volcanic ash deposits listed in this report.

Locations of volcanic ash deposits throughout state.

Volcanic ash has been used as an abrasive, particularly in scouring compounds and soaps; as an important ingredient of ceramic glazes and in ceramic bodies; as an additive to cement to produce certain characteristics in concrete; as a raw material for manufacture of several types of lightweight aggregates; as a sweeping compound; as a dressing for some types of bituminous-matt highways; and it may be usable as a raw ingredient in glass, as a filler, and for many potential future uses. It is the purpose of this report to summarize present information on its occurrence in Kansas and to present data on the character of the material at each of the many localities that have been examined.

This report is the first general inventory of the volcanic ash resources of the State since 1928 when the Geological Survey issued a report as Bulletin 14 (Landes, 1928) that summarized the then existing information on this mineral resource. Since 1928 much important work has been done on the character and utilization of ash. Studies by the Survey's ceramics division have demonstrated its value as a ceramic glaze material (Plummer, 1939; Carey, 1948) and these studies have led to the extensive use of volcanic ash in Kansas potteries. Studies now under way are directed toward its use in ceramic clay bodies as well as additional studies on its use in ceramic glazes. Petrographic characteristics and differences among the many deposits have been investigated (Swineford and Frye, 1946) and the stratigraphy (Frye, Swineford, and Leonard, 1948) and source (Swineford, 1949) of the deposits have been studied. An important new development is the demonstration of the usability of ash as a raw material for the manufacture of lightweight constructional aggregate (Burwell, 1949; Plummer and Hladik, 1951) and of a fine, extremely light and fluffy aggregate for plasters.

Field work for this investigation was carried on during the summers of 1948, 1949, and 1950. Many volcanic ash localities have been reported to the Geological Survey by interested persons throughout the State. In so far as possible all localities that had not been examined and sampled earlier by a geologist were visited during 1949 or 1950 and samples adequate for analysis and testing were collected. All known localities that have the potential for even small-scale development are listed in the county chapters (160 localities in 39 counties). Some deposits with a maximum thickness less than 1 foot, or where the ash is not of sufficient purity to be usable, are not included. Although data on the extent of most of the deposits listed are given in the county chapters, an estimate of minable tonnage has been attempted for only a few deposits.

In the following sections is given a summary of the general geology of Kansas volcanic ash, a description of the petrographic characters and chemical analyses of the deposits, a review of the more important uses of the material, and location and brief description of all the known usable deposits by counties. Thanks are expressed to the many Kansas residents who have aided in this work, both by sending information to the Geological Survey and by assisting in the field work. Special thanks are extended to the county engineers of the counties listed as in many cases it was they who made possible the location of deposits; to the State Highway Department for data on its operations; and to all the active volcanic ash producers operating in the State for their cooperation.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Kansas Volcanic Ash Resources
Comments to
Web version Jan. 2005. Original publication date Feb. 15, 1952.