Saturday, 20 October 2012

Do you trust a geological map?

The NSW Geological Survey have produced the maps that we use today. They have recently placed all of them online for people to view which is... well... excellent! They can be found here. Some areas have excellent, up-to-date 1:100 000 scale maps which are exceptional. However, it is worth mentioning that the best scale you will find for most of the state is 1:250 000 older 1970's maps. These maps are good but they were mostly done through looking at aerial photographs with limited field checking and since nearly 40 years have passed our understanding of the rocks has changed and this means that geological maps can be misleading if you are not careful.

Geology according to the current published maps
(after Brunker et al 1972)- scale approximate

I recently had the opportunity to be involved in a project looking for clay deposits in The Channon / Dunoon area. During the project it became obvious that the geology was not what was mapped (to the left is the geology that was mapped in 1972). The investigation that I was lucky enought to be involved with was pretty simple it just involved an excavator digging a few holes in the ground (testpits). Importantly I had an experienced Engineering Geologist to show me what was going on.

Rock weathers to form soils but there is rarely a distinct boundary between soil and rock, a transition occurs. This transition zone is called the regolith which lies below the soil proper at the surface, it is the  transition into saprolite (weathered rock) and then to unweathered rock. If the weathered rock was derived from shales, mudstones and other fine grained sediments then often these layers will become clay. It was this clay that was looked for.

A better interpretation following the testpit investigation
scale approximate
What was done was to dig into the regolith and depending on the characteristics of the saprolite it would be possible to tell what the original rock would have been. From the mapping it was assumed that what we would find would be related to the Lismore Basalt or Kangaroo Creek Sandstone. What was found was neithers. Instead layers of clayey and silty material and bands of weathered coal were visible as well as lithic sandstone. Coal would certainly not occur in abundance in volcanic rocks like the Lismore Basalt and nor does it occur in the Kangaroo Creek Sandstone. Lithic sandstone is also absent from these units. What must have found was lots more of the Walloon Coal Measures.

From my understanding of the area around Dunoon and on the basis of what was found during the hole digging exercise I put together a  rough new map of the area (the second map above). As you can see there is actually a fair amount of difference. So, don't take it for granted that when you look at a geological map it is exactly right. It should be used as a guide and your knowledge should be applied to check it. The amount of coal we found was so abundant that a discussion about this is probably worth another post in the future.


Brunker R.L., Cameron R.G., Tweedale G. and Reiser R., 1972, Tweed Heads 1:250 000 Geological Sheet SH/56-03, 1st edition, Geological Survey of New South Wales, Sydney


  1. Great you had the opportunty to participate in a project that gives you so much satisfaction. I am interested in geological maps of areas we visit or know, but their accuracy is not vital to me.

    Rod, btw, I would have liked to answer your comment to my post about Google+, as I get comments by email, but when I click reply it comes up 'no reply' instead of an email address.

    1. My current job too often means I'm in the office a lot and I don't often get the chance to experience geology in the proper sense. So I was really chuffed to be involved with this even if I was really just tagging along.

      I'll try and figure out what is going on with the 'no reply'

    2. i was intrigued by the finding that there was a walloon coal measure. was there a lot of coal and if so would there be enough to justify coal mining. if so who owns the mining rights for the area you surveyed. the "pastoral rights" owners would be a little worried.
      Do you think that all "pastoral rights" should have there landed checked geologically independantly so that they can protect themselves on the chance some mining company comes along.
      Also how can a landowner now if there are mining rights over there land? If there is a risk that the land made taken for mining the owner could buy up the rights on the chance and protect himself.
      What do you think.
      Bro Paul

    3. Yes, lots of coal. But it was weathered and close to the surface with lots of clay washed in so it would not be economic to mine unless there were better seams deeper down.

      In NSW, and Australia more broadly, minerals are owned by the government and companies are licensed to explore and mine these minerals. Currently there are no exploration companies looking for coal per se in the region. If companies were to begin to explore for coal then this would be gazetted so that the general public could find out.

      However, the whole region is under exploration licenses for gas, which includes a component of coal seam gas exploration. This is currently a very sensitive issue here and very heated politically. This has raised more than just landholders rights and protection but also the will and opposition of a large portion of the population. So much so that I want to steer clear of that issue!

      I wonder what the situation is like in Japan where you are BroPaul. I have very little idea about mining law in Australia, let alone Japan.

      Thanks for commenting. Hope to hear from you again soon.

    4. Hi Rod...few years down the track now just moving to Dunoon area and my daughters and I enjoy fossicking as a pastime. Would there be any chance of stumbling across any interesting gemstones or gold in this area...cheers mate Lewis

  2. Rod I am a geologist who worked for the Geological Survey of NSW out of Armidale for 20 years. The geological map in this post has been superseded by the Warwick-Tweed Heads metallogenic map and there is now available detailed regional geophysical coverages of radiometrics, magnetics and also detailed terrain data. The older maps were produced in great haste and without any remoe sensing support. A few traverses would have been conducted along roads and areas between extrapolated using air photographs. If other maps such as student thesis maps were available these would have been used as well. As always any detailed field work will improve the resolution and accurate as you have found. The metallogenic maps and detailed accompanying geological and metallogenic reports are available on-line through the Departments DIGS website. Also available are best available digital data sets which can be put into GIS systems for you make your own maps. There is an amazing amount of data available. Unfortunately many Departmental publications and unpublished reports are rarely referenced in academic papers. eg Report/Document Number:
    Explanatory Notes - GS1989/117    (Documents attached to this report are listed below).
    Record Type:
    Departmental Publications
    Report Identification Number:
    Open File
    Authors/Company Name:
    Barnes, R.G.
    Willis, I.L.
    Report Title:
    The Geology of the Grafton and MacLean 1:250 000 Sheet Areas
    Report Description:
    Departmental Geological survey report, Mar 1989
    Never the less, the New England region has not been as systematically mapped at a detailed scale in large areas. Like you blog BTW.