Ferricretes at Burringurrah (Mount Augustus), Western Australia: Proof of lateral derivation
2019 Surficial iron-rich deposits (ferricretes) occur on and around Burringurrah (Mount Augustus), a huge, remote inselberg in the Gascoyne district of Western Australia. Oriented NW-SE, Burringurrah is approximately 14 km long, 5 km wide, rises to 1105 m above sea level and stands some 700 m above the surrounding plain. The majority of the ferricretes occupy bedrock valley bottom floors on the southern side of the inselberg at Edney Springs, Flintstone Creek, and on the Edney Trail where they have formed on unweathered quartzose Mount Augustus Sandstone, which only contains a few percent Fe2O3. At 'The Pound', a boulder ferricrete overlies deeply weathered igneous bedrock, unroofed by erosion of the overlying Mount Augustus Sandstone, exposing the unconformity between the weathered granitic bedrock and the Mount Augustus Sandstone in the core of a broad, asymmetrical and doubly plunging anticline. On the northern, steeper, side of the mountain, vermiform and conglomeratic ferricretes are sparsely exposed in drainage lines. Ferricrete mineralogy is dominated by goethite with only small amounts of hematite. Oxygen isotope inferred ages of weathered monzogranite produced a top-down weathering front extending up to the Neogene at an elevation coincident with the ferricretes within bedrock valley bottoms. Beyond the mountain, the age of ferricreted sandy alluvium was established by thermoluminescence polymineral fine grain dating. These produced a minimum depositional age of >37.6 ± 2.6 ka and a second finite age of 139 ± 44 ka, suggesting ferricrete formation here may have begun during the last interglacial period and continued throughout the late Pleistocene. Formation of ferricretes on top of iron-poor quartzites is unusual. It reflects not only the absolute accumulation of iron oxides derived from the Mount Augustus Sandstone but possibly the additional contributions of iron-bearing aeolian dust from the surrounding plains subsequently washed down drainage lines to accumulate in swampy depressions at the foot of the inselberg. Ferricrete formation was initially simple, with iron in solution impregnating sandy sediment and organic host materials, sporadically impacted by bioturbation by termites. Thin-section petrography reveals an interesting form of in-situ, self-brecciation of quartz and feldspar clasts, which are fractured and infilled with iron oxides and newly precipitated clay which further promotes fragmentation. The mode of ferricrete formation described from Burringurrah is relevant to the laterite-ferricrete debate, for here it is most unlikely that the zones of iron enrichment developed in situ and vertically above the iron-poor quartzite basement as in the sense of the regional 'classic laterite profile'.