Most of the Cumberland Plateau region of southeastern Kentucky is underlain by thick sequences of quartzose sandstone which are assigned for the most part to the Lee Formation. Much new information has been gathered about the Lee and related strata as a result of the cooperative mapping program of the U. S. Geological Survey and the Kentucky Geological Survey between 1960 and 1978. This report summarizes the age, lithology, distribution, sedimentary structures, and stratigraphic relations of the sandstone units of the Lee within and between each of three major outcrop belts in Kentucky: Cumberland Mountain, Pine Mountain, and the Pottsville Escarpment area.
The Lee Formation generally has been regarded as Early Pennsylvanian in age and separated from Mississippian strata in Kentucky by an unconformity. However, lithostratigraphic units included in the formation as presently defined are broadly time-transgressive and range in age from Late Mississippian in parts of the Cumberland Mountain outcrop belt to Middle Pennsylvanian in the Pottsville Escarpment area. Members of the Lee intertongue with and grade into the underlying Pennington Formation and overlying Breathitt Formation. Sandstone and conglomeratic sandstone members of the Lee of Mississippian age found only in parts of the Cumberland overthrust sheet are closely associated with marine rocks; Pennsylvanian members are mostly associated with continental coal-bearing strata. Sandstone members of the Lee are mostly quartz rich and range from more than 90 percent to more than 99 percent quartz. They are relatively coarse grained, commonly pebbly, and in places conglomeratic. The units are southwest-trending linear or broadly lobate bodies.
The Lee Formation is as much as 1,500 ft thick in the type area in Cumberland Mountain where it has been divided into eight members. The Pinnacle Overlook, Chadwell, White Rocks Sandstone, Middlesboro, Bee Rock Sandstone, and Naese Sandstone Members are mostly quartzose sandstone and conglomerate. The Dark Ridge and Hensley Members are mostly shale, siltstone, thin-bedded silty sandstone, and coal. The lower three of these members, the Pinnacle Overlook, Chadwell, and White Rocks Sandstone, are assigned to the Upper Mississippian Series because they intertongue with marine reddish or greenish shale and siltstone of the Pennington Formation or equivalent strata that contain a Late Mississippian fauna. The overlying quartzose sandstone members of the Lee commonly have coalified plant remains and impressions of plants and are Early to Middle Pennsylvanian in age; they are generally associated with terrestrial shale and siltstone containing coal beds and pinch out eastward into subgraywacke, siltstone, and shale. Although marine members commonly are bimodal, resultant transport directions for both marine and terrestrial members are southwesterly as determined by crossbedding.
Thickness variations of the Middlesboro Member in the Cumberland overthrust sheet suggest that it represents tills of at least three major southwesterly trending paleovalleys. Thickness variations of the Bee Rock Sandstone Member east of Rocky Face fault and the combined Bee Rock and Naese Sandstone Members west of Rocky Face fault suggest that these members represent tills of at least two major southwesterly trending paleovalleys. East of Rocky Face fault, the Bee Rock is generally the uppermost member of the Lee; west of the fault, the overlying Naese is at the top. The Naese may range in age from Early to Middle Pennsylvanian and is partly or wholly equivalent to the Rockcastle Sandstone member of the Lee Formation in the area of the Pottsville Escarpment. The Mississippian-Pennsylvanian systemic boundary in the area of the Cumberland overthrust sheet in most places has been placed at an unconformity at the base of the Middlesboro Member; locally it is projected at the base of shales of the underlying Dark Ridge Member or equivalent strata in the Penningto
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USGS Numbered Series
Sandstone units of the Lee Formation and related strata in eastern Kentucky