Saturday 6 October 2012

The New England tablelands seem to be upside down

The geomorphology of the Northern Rivers and New England region can be quite complex. There are many features around the region that have developed as a direct result of the underlying geology. Whether it be the great escarpment, the Ebor Volcano, the backward Clarence River or various other situations, there is always a geological reason for the landscape we see today. In a previous post on the Maybole Volcano near Guyra I quickly mentioned that there is an “inverted topography” which has been created following the deposition of the lava from this volcanic area. Maybole is not isolated in this situation, indeed according to Coenraads & Ollier (1992) much of the basalts in the New England region from Armidale, Walcha, Llangothlin and even places on the other side of the watershed and great dividing range of the Northern Rivers such as Nundle or Inverell show what is technically referred to as relief inversion.

The area around Armidale is actually a good example of the relief inversion, as most hills actually demonstrate the situation nicely. Take, for example, the hill that the University of New England is situated on. The Hill is capped with Cenozoic (Miocene) aged calc-alkaline olivine basalt (part of the Central Volcanic Province) just to the east of the hill (in the paddock below the university carparks) below the level of the lowest basalt flow is a fossil soil horizon, known as a palaeosol. This palaeosol has been affected by lava being deposited on it and has been turned into a material known as silcrete (soil which has been cemented with silica). The old soil was developed on rocks of the Carboniferous aged Sandon Beds. The Sandon Beds outcrop on the lower slopes and in the valleys in and around Armidale but once they were the hills themselves.

The basalts were erupted to the surface the chemical composition of the lava meant that they were quite low in viscosity, that is it was very liquid and consequently the lavas flowed down the valleys that existed at the time. The valleys tended to fill up to varying degrees, leaving only a thin layer of volcanic rock on the existing hill crests of the Sandon Beds or none at all. In the following millions of years the process of erosion would be more effective on the non-volcanic rock and the hills would eventually become incised, turning into gullies and eventually larger valleys. The basalt in the old valleys would remain relatively un-eroded and be become the modern hills.

Evidence of this process can be seen from historic mining of some of the gold around Armidale. The ‘old timers’ would dig under the basalt along ‘deep leads’ which were originally gravel and sand deposits associated with old creeks and rivers. These deep leads had been alluvial gold deposits preserved by the basalt flows. Many of these were mined in the 1800’s and early 1900’s in many areas of the New England district including one quite recently in the Tilbuster area (Ashley & Cook 1988). The silcrete deposits mentioned previously are also examples of the process.


*Ashley, P.M. & Cook, N.D.J. 1988. Geology of the Whybatong gold prospect and associated Tertiary deep lead, Puddledock, Armidale District. New England Orogen - Tectonics and Metallogenesis. Conference Papers presented at the University of New England.
*Coenraads, R.R. & Ollier, C.D. 1992. Tectonics and Landforms of the New England Region. 1992 Field Conference - New England District. Geological Society of Australia Queensland Division.

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