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Silicic and minor intermediate and mafic pyroclastics, lavas, and dykes occupy a NW-trending zone through the Whitsunday, Cumberland and Northumberland Island groups, and locally areas on the adjacent mainland, over a distance of more than 300 km along the central Queensland coast. K–Ar and Rb–Sr data indicate an age range of 95–132 Ma, with the main activity approximately between 105–120 Ma; there is, however, evidence for easterly increasing ages. Comagmatic granites, some clearly intrusive into the volcanics, occur together with two localised areas of Triassic potassic granites (229 Ma), that form the immediate basement.

The volcanics are dominantly rhyolitic to dacitic lithic ignimbrites, with intercalated surge and bedded tuffs, accretionary lapilli tuffs, and lag deposits. Associated rock types include isolated rhyolitic and dacitic domes, and volumetrically minor andesite and rare basalt flows. The sequence is cut by abundant dykes, especially in the northern region and adjacent mainland, ranging from dolerite through andesite, dacite and rhyolite. Dyke orientations show maxima between NW–NNE. Isotope data, similarities in petrography and mineralogy, and alteration patterns all suggest dyke intrusion to be broadly contemporaneous with volcanism. The thickness of the volcanics is unconstrained, although in the Whitsunday area, minimum thicknesses of >1 km are inferred. Eruptive centres are believed to occur throughout the region, and include at least two areas of caldera-style collapse. The sequences are thus considered as predominantly intracaldera.

The phenocryst mineralogy is similar to modern “orogenic” volcanics. Phases include plagioclase, augite, hypersthene (uralitised), magnetite, ilmenite, with less common hornblende, and even rarer quartz, sanidine, and biotite. Fe-enriched compositions only develop in some high-silica rhyolites. The granites range from quartz diorite to granite s.s., and some contain spectacular concentrations of partially disaggregated dioritic inclusions.

Chemically, the suite ranges continuously from basalt to high-silica rhyolite, with calc-alkali to high-K affinities, and geochemical signatures similar to modern subduction-related magmas. Only the high-silica rhyolites and granites exhibit evidence of extensive fractional crystallisation (e.g. pronounced Eu anomalies). Variation within the suite can only satisfactorily be modelled in terms of two component mixing, with superimposed crystal fractionation. Nd and Sr isotope compositions are relatively coherent, with εNd+ 2·2 to +7·3, and ISr (calculated at 110 and 115 Ma) 0·7031–0·7044. These are relatively primitive, and imply mantle and/or newly accreted crustal magma sources.

The two end-members proposed are within-plate tholeiitic melt, and ?low-silica rhyolitic melts generated by partial fusion of Permian (to ?Carboniferous) arc and arc basement. The arc-like geochemistry is thus considered to be source inherited. The tectonic setting for Cretaceous volcanism is correlated with updoming and basin rifting during the early stages of continental breakup, culminating in the opening of the Tasman Basin. Cretaceous volcanism is also recognised in the Maryborough Basin (S Queensland), the Lord Howe Rise, and New Caledonia, indicating the regional extent of volcanism associated with the complex breakup of the eastern Australasian continent margin.

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