Monday, 21 September 2015

Cooking the rocks at Emerald Beach

I have always been interested in the little things in life. The things that don’t get the attention that everything else seems to get. This even applies to rocks and rock outcrops. It applies to a little headland that I visited on a trip to Coffs Harbour earlier this year. The headland has no name but lies on the northern side of Emerald Beach and the village of the same name. It is made from a granite-like rock of a poorly understood suite of intrusions in north eastern NSW.

Boulder on Emerald Beach. Note the xenolith at the bottom
The rock is formally called the Emerald Beach Monzogranite. It is the eastern most granite on the Australian continent is also one of the youngest rocks in the New England area. The Emerald Beach Monzogranite has been dated at 228.5Ma and part of an informally super suite of granites called the Coastal Supersuite (Chisholm et al 2014). Originally the unit was formerly defined as the Emerald Beach Adamellite (Korsch 1978) but has been renamed to reflect the most up-to-date nomenclature. However, the name Monzonite (and hence Adamellite) is misleading. The composition of the rock is consistent with the definition of Granodiorite (Plagioclase Feldspar abundance greater than that of Potassium Feldspar (Korsch 1971, Chisholm et al 2014). No reference to Monzogranite (or Adamellite) have been made and the samples I’ve seen were plagioclase feldspar dominant so the present classification appears erroneous. Maybe the name Emerald Beach Granodiorite might be more correct.

The dating of the Emerald Beach Monzogranite was only conducted in the last couple of years. It is an example of using multiple techniques together to get an answer. The mineral Zircon is formed in magma chambers of granite and granite-like composition. This is a very stable mineral. Zircon locks up uranium in small amounts and this uranium undergoes radioactive decay to lead. By measuring the proportions of uranium to lead it is possible to determine how long ago the zircon had formed. By this method Chisholm et al 2014 narrowed the age down to about 228.5 million years old. This is the Upper Triassic era which was the time of the best known dinosaurs.

Xenoliths of country rock are present in the rock (you can see an example in the picture above). These darker coloured xenoliths are inclusions of country rock which has been caught up in the magma chamber and have not quite been completely melted into the rest of the liquid rock. In the case of the Emerald Beach Monzonite the xenoliths are slightly elongated and display a preferred orientation. This orientation is probably caused by following the direction of intrusion of the molten rock (Korsch 1971).

The intrusion of the magma heated up the surrounding rock into which it had been emplaced. This heating up forms what is termed a contact metamorphic aureole (a metamorphic zone of effect). The Emerald Creek Monzonite had heated the muds in the surrounding deep sea Coramba Bed rocks to such an extent that new minerals were formed including very small but abundant crystals of biotite mica. Biotite mica forms at approximately 500 degrees Celsius (but varies by pressure) and disintegrates when hotter than about 800 degrees. Therefore the temperature of the molten rock was probably at least this. This type of contact metamorphic rock is referred to as hornfels.

It is an interesting example how little aspects again can tell a lot about how rock forms. Preferred orientation of xenolith inclusions and the formation of biotite in the surrounding rock show both the direction that the magma was moving and its temperature at the time. Have a look if you are in the area and see if you can spot some of the xenoliths. Those that are really in the know can say that the Emerald Creek Monzonite seems to have been incorrectly named.


*Chisholm, E.I., Blevin, P.L. and Simpson, C.J. 2014. New SHRIMP U–Pb zircon ages from the New England Orogen, New South Wales: July 2012–June 2014. Record 2014/52. Geoscience Australia
*Korsch, R.J. 1971. Palaeozoic Sedimentology and Igneous Geology of the Woolgoolga District, North Coast, New South Wales. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales. Vol. 104.
*Korsch, R.J. 1978. Stratigraphic and Igneous Units in the Rockvale-Coffs Harbour Region, Northern New South Wales. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales. Vol. 111.

1 comment:

  1. mmm, late Triassic. That's somewhat between the volcanic periods of the eastern seaboard isn't it?