Tuesday, 18 October 2011

What's the difference between the basalts?

A vesicular (air bubbles) example of Alstonville Basalt
There are three recognized Cenozoic aged "basaltic" geological units in the area between the Queensland border and Evans Head. These were first classified by Duggan and Mason (1978) and are the Blue Knob, Kyogle and Lismore Basalts. These 'basalts' are all part of the Lamington Volcanics.C otter (1998) has also proposed a new unit known as the Alstonville Basalt and included these in the Lamington Volcanics too but the information by Cotter was 'lost' until recently.  All four of these units are described below from oldest to youngest.

Alstonville Basalt
This is a new unit proposed by Cotter (1998), dating by this author gives a date of around 41 million years. This means that the Alstonville Basalt is too old to have formed through the same mechanism as the Tweed Volcano/Mount Warning basalts that are discussed below. No model of formation has been proposed but other research Vickery et al (2007) from the basalts of the New England tablelands area has proposed that a basalt of similar composition and age known as the Maybole Volcanics formed during rifting associated with the opening of the Tasman Sea. So this mechanism may be appropriate for the Alstonville Basalt too.
The Alstonville Basalt is actually similar in composition to the Kyogle Basalt in that it consists mainly of basalt and andesite called hawaiite which means that there is no mineral quartz in the rock but the mineral olivine is commonly found instead.

Kyogle Basalt
In Queensland the Kyogle Basalt is called the Albert Basalt. Wellman and McDougall 1974 give the age of the Albert Basalt at 22.5 million years (and accordingly the Kyogle Basalt would be the same age). The origin of this unit is regarded as the Focal Peak volcano which is situated today around Mount Barney. The Kygole Basalt predominately consists of a basalt called hawaiite with minor basanite and alkaline olivine basalt (basalts which are silica poor with no quartz in the rock but some olivine). Rarely tholeiitic basalt also occurs (basalt with some quartz which has crystallized in a specific geochemical pattern). The minerals that make up the smallest crystals in the rock (the groundmass) generally have a green colour giving the Kyogle Basalt a green tinge which often helps with identification in the field.

As the Australian Plate drifted over a hot spot in the mantle a chain of volcanoes was formed with the oldest situated in Queensland and the youngest (and still active or just dormant) volcanoes situated in Victoria and out in the Southern Ocean. The Kyogle Basalt represents the commencement of hot spot volcanism (i.e. the beginning of the Tweed and Focal Peak volcanoes) in the region.

Lismore Basalt
The Lismore Basalt is called the Beechmont Basalt in Queensland which has been given an age of between 22.6 to 22.9 million years. In some areas Duggan and Mason (1978) have mapped the Lismore Basalt as directly overlying the Kyogle Basalt. However, it is important to note that in the field the distinction between the two units can be difficult at times. The Lismore basalts are mainly tholeiitic in nature (usually contain a little bit of quartz and no olivine). The distribution of the Lismore Basalt is greatest for all the units of the Lamington Volcanics in NSW with the unit exposed over an area of greater than 3 000 square kilometres. It is the major eruptive unit originating from the Tweed Shield Volcano which is centred at present day Mount Warning.

Blue Knob Basalt
There is actually very little difference between the Blue Knob and Lismore Basalts except that the two units are separated by units of rhyolite known as the Nimbin Rhyolite. Some authors such as Duggan and Houston (1978) and Smith and Houston (1995) have even suggested that they represent continuing sporadic eruptions of the Lismore Basalt during the period of eruptions of the Nimbin Rhyolite. The basalts outcrop on top of or inter-collated with the Nimbin Rhyolite and may actually represent a continuity of occasional basalt lava eruptions while the rhyolite lavas were erupted. However, the Blue Knob Basalt represents the final preserved eruptions known of the Tweed Volcano.

In Queensland the Blue Knob Basalt is called the Hobwee Basalt.

Note: Now, if you are a little bamboozled by all the weird names of the basalts and how basalts can appear to be identical and called something else in a different location (especially given state borders) please keep with me because in the near future I will do a post that explains the difference. I'll also have to find some sources online to explain how basalts are different from each other (and how to tell that difference in the field). In the mean time the glossary may provide some assistance.


*Cotter, S. 1998. A Geochemical, Palaeomagnetic and Geomorphological Investigation of the Tertiary Volcanic Sequence of North Eastern New South Wales. Masters Thesis, Southern Cross University.
*Duggan, P.B., Mason, D.R. 1978. Stratigraphy of the Lamington Volcanics in Far Northeastern New South Wales. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences V25.
*Smith, J. V., Houston, E.C. 1995. Structure of lava flows of the Nimbin Rhyolite, northeast New South Wales. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences v42.
*Vickery, N. M., Dawson, M.W., Sivell, W.J., Malloch, K.R., Dunlap, W.J. 2007. Cainozoic igneous rocks in the Bingara to Inverell area, northeastern New South Wales. Geological Survey of New South Wales Quarterly Notes v123.
*Wellman, P. & McDougall, I. 1974. Potassium-argon Dates on the Cainozoic Volcanic Rocks of New South Wales. Journal of the Geological Society of Australia v21.

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