Saturday, 17 December 2016

Blog Update #10 - Pain and a paper

Eleanor Faith Holland
The blog has been on hold for a while. But I have always intended to keep on writing. There has been some major changes in where I live and work and most recently our lovely 6 year old daughter Eleanor passed away. There has been much pain but there is much celebration too for our special girl. My wife Becky and I are in feelings of loss. That said, we want to celebrate the life of our daughter who demonstrated so much strength in so many ways. A service will be held at St Peter’s Cathedral in Armidale at 2pm on Monday (19th December).
Coming to Christmas it is a subdued feeling at our home and my birthday was yesterday as well so I didn’t feel like celebrating. However, there was something I was excited to see. A confirmation that a paper that I was a co-author of has been accepted to the journal Science of the Total Environment (Santos et al 2016). I was only a minor co-author but there is something about having your name up there that caters for ones ego.

The highlights of the article are:
  • We assess groundwater recharge through a pervasive layer of floodplain muds.
  • Modelled groundwater flow paths were consistent with tritium dating.
  • The clay layer did not prevent recharge because of macropores and cracks.
  • Fine-grained floodplain soils do not necessarily protect underlying aquifers from pollution.
  • Combining multiple techniques gives more confidence in recharge estimates.
The article can be found here:


*Santos, I.R., Zhang, C., Maher, D.T., Atkins, M. L. Holland, R. Morgenstern, U & Li, Ling. 2016. Assessing the Recharge of a Coastal Aquifer using Physical Observations, Tritium, Groundwater Chemistry and Modelling, Science of The Total Environment, Available online 15 December 2016, ISSN 0048-9697,

Monday, 24 October 2016

Blog Update #9

Frequent readers may have observed that I have not updated this blog for some time. Due to changes in my personal arrangements I have run out of spare time! My computer has also died! I have therefore had to put this blog on hold until I can find some more time and purchase a new computer. I envisage this will probably be late December. Until then, there may be an isolated post or two but I can't promise anything. Sorry all.

I have had some opportunity to update the rocks of the region page.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Cutting Through Mysterious Granite on a Country Highway

Australia is known for its remoteness. There are some quite remote areas in the Northern Rivers too. Along the escarpment there are rugged areas and visitors are rare. This means that sometimes rocks even though mapped broadly have geological units that have not been researched enough to relate them to surrounding units. It is a rare thing though, and rarely have rock units not been named, and categorised, even rarer is when a rock is found by the side of one of the national highways!

un-categorized granite on the New England Highway, Glencoe

The picture shows a granite that is currently mapped as "unassigned Permian intrusive - felsic". There may have been some investigations here in the past. I just can't believe some place so obvious like this one has not been investigated in detail.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Blog Update #8

The Rocks of the Region page has been a big success and will continue to be expanded on. Unfortunately I've had very little time to do some actual blog posts recently. This is not for want of material (there is a huge range of topics and places just asking to be covered) but due to a change in my work commitments. I have taken up a new job with much longer days and therefore my free time is very limited. I have also relocated away from Lismore to Armidale and taken my family with me. We are still very much settling in.

Thank you to all the readers out there. I hope that I can continue to build a blog that is a good resource for the community to use. I guess there are people still reading this blog since there are more than 150 000 page views!

Coming up soon... what is going on with this rock?
Coming up

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Geology of the Big Scrub Rainforest (Part 4)

Tasman Sea to the Alstonville Plateau

Following the Cretaceous during the Paleogene and possibly as a result of the action of the Tasman Sea formation, volcanic systems began to form throughout parts of eastern Australia. In the New England, the Hunter and Sydney areas swiftly flowing lavas erupted from long vents and covered large areas with basalt. The same thing happened in our region and until now it is one of the relatively unknown parts of our history. At  around 43Ma during the Eocene Epoch basalt lava flowed from vents somewhere in the area now known as the Alstonville Plateau (The area between Lismore to Lennox Head). The lava flow (called the Alstonville Basalt) tended to flow towards the North and West because the hills of the Blackhall Range formed a barrier to the South. The old Wilsons River seems to have been deflected from its southerly course and sent inland to join the Richmond River as lava flows dammed off the rivers original course. Small lakes were formed where the lava flows dammed streams and created little areas of sedimentary rock known as diatomite and even poor quality opal. It is interesting to note that during the 20th century diatomite was even been mined for use as a filter medium from layers between basalt at Tintenbar and Wyrallah.

Layers of diatomite were subsequently covered by new layers of lava and during the time between lava flows rich red soils developed and were subsequently covered by new lava. The rate of soil formation was high during this time because the world climate was the warmest (more than 10 degrees C hotter than the average today) it had been for 400 million years and be when combined with atmospheric moisture this time was known as the Mid-Eocene Climate Optimum. The lava covered soils (known as paleosols) are important today because they are conduits for groundwater (aquifers) which create long lasting springs resulting continually running streams and ecosystems dependent upon them. The aquifers are also drilled into for groundwater for some of the livestock, irrigation and town water supply on the Alstonville Plateau today. Eventually, the eruptions stopped and lovely fertile deep red soils developed and continue to develop today.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Rocks of the Region Page

Sometimes pictures say more than words can. I have created a reference web page that has links to my Flickr pictures of most of the major stratigraphic units of the region. Here you can see pictures of rocks, minerals, landscapes and unusual features that within each of the rock units. Locations of each picture are provided in Flickr so that you can check these out for yourself if you are that eager!

In addition I've provided a link to the stratigraphic unit description in Geoscience Australia's Stratigraphic Name Database.

The whole exercise will never end. It is a work forever in progress. Let me know if you have a wish list of photographs. Click the photograph below to go to the reference page.


Monday, 30 May 2016

Geology of the Big Scrub Rainforest (Part 3)


The late Jurassic and Cretaceous marks a very important geological time. It is the time that the huge supercontinent of Pangea broke up. This when Gondwana became its own continent with present day Australia and Antarctica being a large part of a new smaller, but still impressive super-continent. Our region was actually quite close to the pole but, yet temperatures in our area were quite warm because the climate of whole of the earth was warmer and wetter than it is today. Life was abundant because summer days were nearly 24 hours long and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere along with the warmth and moisture super-charged plant growth (in fact permanent ice did not exist anywhere on earth at this time). It was at this time that many of the plants synonymous with Australia and more specifically the ‘Bigscrub’ began their evolution (including the plant order Myrtales which includes eucalypts, bottlebrushes and lillypillys).

As the Jurassic gave way to the Cretaceous period big changes continued. India followed by Antarctica began to separate from Gondwana and finally at around 80Ma the Tasman Sea started to form. Prior to the Tasman Sea formation the landmass extended hundreds or even thousands of kilometers to the east before reaching the sea. The Tasman Sea caused major changes to the landscape. This area is known as Zealandia and as separation occurred it sank below the sea and is now known as the Lord Howe submarine rise. A bit like the mythical land of Atlantis, a huge land submerged under the ocean. The Australian continent now finishing only several of kilometres off the coast from the future Cape Byron. The detachment of Zealandia reduced the weight on the eastern side of Australia which then began to rise and form many of the inland ranges that now make up the Great Dividing Range. This continental crust “rebound” would progress over a long time and by the end of the Cretaceous the physical form of Eastern Australia was set for its last major changes through the actions of volcanoes.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Science, Philosophy and Politics

It is popular these days to start with a narrative and make the data fit in. Rarely do we think about alternative hypotheses other than our own already established professional narrative. Because researchers today rely on their reputation they must defend their theories or apparently loose credibility. Ironically, the most credible scientists are those willing to admit they may be incorrect.

Scientists today often delve into the areas of political intrigue. When this happens the scientists pet narrative becomes a fortress that must be protected. No one can criticize it because the scientist will see it as a personal affront since his whole credibility has been placed on the line. This in turn turns peers off from suggesting alternative hypotheses because they know if they make such a suggestion the whole thing will become a fight. Even suggesting an alternative that is not as popular as the politically expedient one can result in aggression, ostracism and public ridicule. No wonder scientists often find hiding in their laboratories the most rewarding experience!

When scientific concepts are backed by politics you know that you are onto ground that is not necessarily scientific. So with that in mind, here is a diagram that covers all the issues today that arise during scientific inquiry. This includes the moral, philosophical and political reasons for undertaking scientific research.
As a geological example that was publicized a couple of years ago in Nature on the problems with the mantle plume hypothesis. Even though the article recognizes many problems with the theory it demeans a group of scientists who have proposed alternatives that fit a wider range of data. It gently denegrates an alternative hypothesis by suggesting only a small number and therefore fringe group have advanced the hypothesis:
"No matter what the RĂ©union study finds, its results are unlikely to convince the few critics of the plume hypothesis."
Essentially, it is the anti-scientific idea of "consensus science" that is beginning to pervade all areas of inquiry. Some of these scientists responded  here is a link to a letter to the journal Nature. Unfortunately for the general public even to view this correspondence requires $18 just to read it (such is the nature of journals these days).

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Geology of the 'Big Scrub Rainforest' (Part 2)

The story of the 'Big Scrub' s preserved in the rock unit known as the Neranleigh-Fernvale Beds. The first post in this series is about this rock, the foundations of the region. This post deals with the period of big sedimentary basins which corresponds with the age of the dinosaurs. Some 50 or 60 million years elapse from the Neranleigh-Fernvale Beds until we come to our next period of rock formation.

The Big Basins

Walloon Coal Measures overlain by Orara Formation at Bexhill
This period begins in the age of the dinosaurs during the end of the Triassic Period. During this time tectonic forces became extensional, that is, the east coast of Australia was pulled and twisted apart, very little compression occurred. The crust became thinner as the once colliding continental plates began to relax and lowland basin-shaped regions formed. The thin crust allowed more volcanism to occur and the first geological units of the Ipswich and Clarence-Moreton Basin were formed. The Chillingham Volcanics consisting of lavas and volcanic ash was laid down in after 229Ma and this was subsequently overlain by units of lake and river deposits including the Evans Head Coal Measures, Laytons Range Conglomerate, Walloon Coal Measures and many other layers. By the height of the age of the dinosaurs, during the Jurassic great river valleys spread out from the mountains of the New England over our region. These rivers laid down great expanses of alluvial sand which were further overlain by other units. The great expanses of river sand are called the Orara Formation.

Today, like the Neranleigh-Fernvale Beds the sediments of the Clarence-Moreton Basin in the ‘Bigscrub’ area are mostly obscured by younger rocks. However, some of the Chillingham Volcanics seem to present in the Blackhall Range behind Wardell though this is difficult to identify. Rocks of the Orara Formation are present at the edge of Meerschumvale but are most obvious at Bexhill, indeed at Bexhill the Walloon Coal Measures are evident in the old brickpit. The Walloon Coal Measures are overlain by a sub-unit of the Orara Formation called the Kangaroo Creek Sandstone. This Sandstone forms nutrient very well-draining but poor soils. Lovely examples of the Kangaroo Creek Sandstone can be seen at Bexhill Open Air Cathedral or in the creeks near The Channon. This means that the vegetation on these areas consists of different plants to that of the rest of the ‘Bigscrub’. The soils in these areas cannot support the lowland subtropical rainforest that is the biggest component of the ‘Bigscrub’ unless they are well sheltered in a gorge.

Even though the units of the Ipswich and Clarence-Moreton Basins are dated from the age of the dinosaurs (the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods) no one has yet found fossils of dinosaurs preserved in any of these units in our ‘Bigscrub’ area. However, abundant fossils of plants and fish do exist in many units of the Clarence-Moreton Basin and dinosaur footprints have been seen in rocks of the Walloon Coal Measures in the Queensland part of the basin. Some fossil fish have been observed in the creeks near Nimbin. Along with the abundant coal during the Jurassic shows there was a very large quantity of organic matter and plants growing at the time. This was a time rich in life.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Geology of the 'Big Scrub Rainforest' (Part 1)

Later this year it is intended that the Big Scrub Landcare group and many other contributors will release a book on people's connection with the 'Big Scrub'. It will be a multi-faceted book that introduces the emotional connection that people can have with a lovely part of the world. The book will even help picture the geological events that contributed to the formation of the amazing region. I understand that the book is intended to be launched in September at annual Big Scrub Rainforest Day. For those that would like some background information on the geology of the 'Big Scrub' I have provided a detailed outline of the rock types and events that went into building the foundations of this forest. There is a fair bit of information so I've broken this history into a series of blog posts. The book will have a different emphasis to this series of posts and will be a high quality visual feast. So I'll let everyone know more details about the book closer to the release date.

The oozy beginning

The history of the ‘Bigscrub’ starts a very long time in the past, yet it may be a surprise that by Australian standards the geology of our region is comparatively young. The oldest parts of Australia are 4400Ma (4400 million) years old but our little part of the Australian continent did not exist back then. It was not until 363-320Ma that the foundation rocks of our region were formed. These rocks are called the Neranleigh-Fernvale Beds

The Neranleigh-Fernvale Beds at Broken Head National Park near Byron Bay
The Neranleigh-Fernvale Beds are derived from the deep sea. In the Devonian Period sediments settled to the bottom of the deep sea crust. The sediments were at first very fine and mainly consisted of the microscopic silica based skeletons of algae called pelagic ooze. The amount of sediment was only slowly deposited but over a long time a great thickness accumulated. Occasionally thicker layers of mud would be deposited from submarine landslides which occurred at the edge of the far away continental land masses, rarely submarine volcanoes laid down lava that was quickly solidified by the deep, cold ocean water.

The process of plate tectonics means that oceanic plates move slowly under continental plates. Gradually, as this process continued during the Carboniferous our area came closer to the continental landmass as the oceanic plate was subducted (is pushed under) under the Australian continent. Tall active volcanic mountain ranges existed along the edge of the continent much like the mountain ranges of the Andes Mountains in South America today. As our area approached the continent it meant that the size of particles increased. Erosion of the mountain ranges and continuing submarine landslides created layers in the sediments called turbidite sequences. These are sequences where the bottom is coarse grained (usually sandy) and the top is fine grained (mud). This is because fine sediments take longer to fall out of the water. Subsequent nearby landslides would start a new layer with coarse grained sands followed by finer grained mud and so on.

Neranleigh-Fernvale Beds are quarried at many locations this is an old face at Teven
Eventually our part of the oceanic crust with its mass of deep sea muds and turbidite travelled to the zone of subduction where the collision with the Australian plate forced the oceanic plate under it. In this process the sediments that are on the oceanic plate are squashed and stuck onto the continent. Australia’s size grew as the process of accretion built up a thick wedge of submarine mud and turbidite. The pressure of the crustal plates sliding past each other squashed the sediments together and bent the layers into a complex arrangement of folds and faults. These are what we now know as the Neranleigh-Fernvale Beds.

As mentioned before, the Neranleigh-Fernvale Beds are the foundation rocks of our region. Today they form the ‘basement’ of the coastal Australian landmass from Gympie in Queensland to Broadwater on the Richmond River. However, in our region they are mostly obscured by younger rocks (discussed below) though it is possible to view outcrops of turbidite in several areas. These include on the Wilsons River at Laverty’s Gap, at Tintenbar and on the escarpment at Uralba between Ballina and Alstonville. Quartzite (from the silica rich sediment) is present on a hill near Nashua.

At the earlier stages of the carboniferous period the collision of the oceanic and crustal plates in our region stopped. The Neranleigh-Fernvale bed formation had been completed. The continent with its new additions ‘relaxed’ as compression eased and eventually stopped. Many more millions of years passed and what happened during that time is lost to history. No rocks are preserved in our region from the next time period known as the Permian. It is probable that the ‘Bigscrub’ area remained stable for a long time with only erosion being the most significant geological process.

Part 2.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Geology dance moves

I'm moving on from my job hoping for more opportunities in the future. I was disappointed with many aspects of my position, not in the least the resistance from bureaucratic processes to fit in with geological reality! This was particularly disappointing with the search for groundwater resources which I felt seemed encumbered by the processes rather than where water could actually be found. I guess that is government, but it is sad when you feel that the public money your organization is entrusted with is poorly spent. I could have paid for my salary many times over if my advice was taken in the first place. After two years they discovered that exactly what I had said was the case! several hundreds of thousands of dollars later my top two recommendations were identified by expert consultants as the best two recommendations and we hadn't even drilled yet! A lesson for all those people that think they can understand what the environment without actually going out from behind their desk.

So it is with relief that I move on to other things. Time will tell what will happen but in the mean time I might learn some dance moves courtesy of the Amoeba People .

'The Alluvial Fan' is my first starting move:
"We think you'll agree that few things are more dance-inspiring than cone-shaped deposits of sand, gravel and silt."