Wednesday 25 April 2012

A special volcano on the edge of the Northern Rivers

I have previously mentioned several volcanoes that have existed during the Cenozoic period in and around the Northern Rivers region of the New England. But, it is worth noting that there was once a period of significant volcanism earlier in the Cenozoic which defines the landscape of the Great Dividing Range south of Glen Innes, near the villages of Glencoe (with its excellent pub: The Red Lion Inn) and Ben Lomond. This area is the headwaters of many wild rivers found flowing down the rugged New England escarpment that are tributaries of the Clarence River. On the other side of the divide eventually join the Darling and then Murray River. The Maybole volcano was apparently centred at the modern day and generally unheard of locality, Maybole. It erupted lavas over a large area in every direction including large areas to the west, east and south east.

Maybole lies just on or just outside of the headwaters of the Northern Rivers but none-the-less is worth mentioning because of the extent of volcanic rock that appears to have originated from it. The rocks that have come from the Maybole Volcano are mostly basalt type rocks which were once referred to as the Eastern division of the Central Volcanic Province (Coenraads & Ollier 1992), now referred to as the Maybole Volcanics but still part of the Central Volcanic Province according to Vickery et al (2007). The Maybole Volcanics are comprised of alkali olivine basalt to slightly less silica undersaturated basalt and andesite and reworked volcanic material (epiclastic and volcaniclastic sedimentary rocks) and was erupted around 36-39 million years ago.

Coenraads & Ollier (1992) identified that Maybole was a significant volcano by determining the thickness of basalt that occurred in the region and noticing that at Maybole the thickness was significant at several hundred metres. There are also apparently some dykes and vents that are present. Additionally, they had a close look at drainage patterns and realised that they radiated like the spokes on a bicycle, a classical indication of volcanic geomorphology.

Since Coenraads & Ollier (1992), Vickery et al (2007) has undertaken a major review of the Central Volcanic Province and delineated several constituents of the province. The most significant along this part of the Great Divide is now known as the Maybole Volcanics, obviously directly associated with the Maybole volcano. The age of the Central Volcanic Province including the Maybole Volcanics shows that these rocks are too old to be associated with the Eastern Australian hotspot which formed many of the other major volcanic centres in the region (such as the Focal Peak, Tweed and Ebor Volcanoes). Some time after the end of volcanism from the Maybole Volcano  other volcanoes between about 14-24Ma erupted their lavas over the top of the Maybole Volcanic suite rocks.

Interestingly, it appears that the Maybole Volcanics had affected exactly where the Great Divide was situated because the nature of the existing range was such that the lavas filled the valleys creating thick volcanic piles while the existing hills were only covered with thin layers. This meant redirection of streams and when the rock was eroded the more erodible hills were turned into valleys and the valleys became hills caped with basalt. This is termed an inverted topography. But more about this in another post.

Interestingly, Coenraads & Ollier (1992) have observed that the the great divide has moved over time with some of the old basalt filled valleys showing that they used to flow to the west but with the streams now flowing to the east. It actually appears that the Northern Rivers region is getting bigger!

Red Lion Inn (from Flickr)
PS. Like lots of geologists I like pubs with a good atmosphere and The Red Lion Inn at Glencoe is just such a beautiful place. It is an exceptional location to stop for a meal, especially during the middle of winter while snow is coming down. Alternatively, during autumn while the trees turn bright yellow and red, or during spring while the new leaves are coming out, or even summer! i.e. I recommend it!


*Coenraads, R. R., Ollier, C.D. 1992. Tectonics and Landforms of the New England Region in 1992 Field Conference - New England District. Geological Society of Australia Queensland Division.
*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.

Thursday 19 April 2012

The hiding peak at Glenugie forest

Some time ago Mark left a comment where he asked whether the basalt at Glenugie Peak (once known as Mount Elaine) was part of the Ebor Volcano. I didn't think it was likely but at that stage I did not know much about this peak, in fact I'd only glimpsed it through the trees while driving along the Pacific Highway to Grafton. Since then I've been trying to find out more about the peak, although I still have not had the chance to actually get there, staff from the New South Wales Geological Survey recently have reviewed the mapping of the area including the peak. What they observed reinforces my understanding that it is not related to the Ebor Volcano but the visit found out some very unusual things.

Glenugie Peak is hidden quite well by the forest all around as well as the lack of other hills to see it from. This means that it often goes unnoticed but if you have a look at a topographic map you will see that it is a very significant feature in the landscape. Before I learned what the rocks were here I thought it was likely to be an old flow of basalt from a period of volcanism that occurred before the chain of volcanoes from the East Australian Hot Spot. This is because there are many outliers of basalt that occur in the region that are too early for the hot spot volcanism. In addition, the old geological mapping of the area has Glenugie Peak being comprised of Tertiary aged extrusive Basalt. This contrasts with the surrounding rock which is the Grafton Formation of the Clarence Moreton basin.

I  came across Jopin (1968) who described a sample of the Glenugie Peak obtained from another authors petrographic analysis as Limbugite. I have heard of Limburgite before but I could not remember exactly what it was or the implications of such a rock type. I don't think I have ever even seen such a rock before. So, I had to look it up! Limburgite is essentially looks a like a basalt in hand specimen but contains no quartz and is so silica poor that not even feldspar is present in the rock.  Instead of feldspar (the most common rock forming mineral) other minerals called feldspathoids are present. This is termed silica under-saturation or ultramafic.

The NSW Geological Survey have now identified that the Glenugie Peak is intrusive and is a dyke, volcanic plug or similar. It has been intruded through the underlying sedimentary rocks of the Clarence Moreton Basin. Additionally, a review of mapping of the region that is being undertaken includes investigation of the rock composition at Glenugie Peak. The Investigation includes analysis of samples which identified two types of rock: Teschenite and Meltiegite. Teschenite and Meltiegite is quite consistent with the Limburgite classification by Joplin 1968. These two are also silica under-saturated rocks. The feldspathoid mineral in this rock is called nepheline.

So what, what does that mean? Well, these rocks are actually very unusual in the coastal region. Phonolite, a related but still not as silica-undersaturated (it is also higher in the elements sodium and potassium) as the rock found at Glenugie, occurs in the New England tablelands but this seems to be quite old in comparison to Glenugie Peak. These silica under-saturated rocks form where there is a significant thickness of continental crust allowing the bottom of the crust to partially melt (but not melt too much). The melted component then migrates and is emplaced either in more shallow crust or erupted to the surface. It is comparatively rare and unfortunately these rocks tend to weather easily making accurate chemical dating hard.

It seems that Glenugie Peak is made from a weird rock. I was very surprised (and excited) to see the unusual classifications that have been made. As far as I am aware this rock does not occur anywhere else nearby and even on an Australian scale is rare. When a fresh piece of rock is obtained the general appearance resembles basalt and therefore may be quickly passed over and forgotten. Luckily, the peak continues to be looked at and although nothing has been published yet it is exciting that more is being learnt about the geology of the region. Without the Geological Survey and university geology departments knowledge of our land would be so much less.

Knowing what I now do, the next time I'm spending some time in the Grafton area I'm going on a bushwalk to Glenugie Peak! Apparently it is within a flora reserve and is particularly good for bird spotting too.

Note: since writing the above post I have come across another early reference to Limbugite and Teschenite by Vallance et al (1969) who also refer to a 1919 description but unfortunately little extra information is given.

2nd note: since wrinting the above note I came accross a record from 1915 which includes analysis of apparently of one of the two types of rocks found at Mount Elaine. The geo-chemical classification of this rock (according to the TAS method) is a picro-basalt (essentiall a very low silica and very low sodium and potassium basalt).


Joplin, G. A., 1968, A Petrography of Australian Igneous Rocks, Angus and Robertson.
Valance, T.G., Wilkinson, J.F.G., Abbott, M.J., Faulks, I.G., Stewart, J.R., Bean, J.M., 1969, IX Mesozoic and Cainozoic Igneous Rocks, Journal of the Geological Society of Australia.V16.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Lindesay and the volcano

I recently went to Woodenbong via Kyogle. The trip along this section of the Summerland Way is very pretty as you climb into the McPherson Ranges. It also provides many opportunities for good views of imposing Mount Lindesay which is around 1180m high, located right on the state border and is a reminder about mistakes that people make when seeing mountains that are shaped the way they are.

Mount Lindesay from the south
Mount Lindesay is often referred to as a volcanic plug. I've heard this from different people several times. This is not surprising as the shape does imply this, but this is a trick of nature. The upper parts and 'peak' are flows of what is called the Binna Burra Rhyolite (or Mount Gillies Volcanics in Queensland) and some basalt, below this is a layer of obsidian (rhyolitic glass) overlying a layer of rhyolitic ash and agglomerates. The lower parts of the mountain is made from another volcanic rock, basalt (Kyogle Basalt). This basalt however overlies sediments of the Clarence Moreton Basin.

Mount Lindesay gets its shape by the rhyolite that forms the top most layer. The rhyolite is hard, resistant to weathering and therefore remains relatively difficult to erode. It is for this reason that the rhyolite has protected the underlying softer rock at Mount Lindsay and you can see the same process for ridges to the east and south of the mountain too. The actual vents for the rhyolite and underlying basalt lavas is actually a little tricky to definitely locate but we do know that the main volcanic centre for these rocks was at the Focal Peak Volcano located in the vicinity of present day Mount Barney a significant distance to the north. Additionally, there are some real volcanic plugs further to the west which I mention below.

Rhyolite from focal peak was thought by Duggan and Mason (1978) and other authors to extend as far Nimbin to the east. However, recent work by Cotter (1998) has shown that this is not the case but the Binna Burra Rhyolite still extends a long way to the east past places like Wiangaree.

There are however, some clearly identifiable volcanic plugs in the region. A good one is sometimes referred to as the Nightcap Peak and is located half way between Woodenbong and Urbenville just a little to the west of the road. It stands out from the rolling hills, is difficult to miss and is made from the rock granophyre (fine grained granite-like rock). At Urbenville the Northern Obelisk is another example of a plug, a bit one! Additionally, large dykes exist to the south west of Urbenville too.


*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.