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.

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