Antiquity of the giant inselberg Burringurrah (Mount Augustus), Western Australia, inferred from oxygen isotope dating of kaolinitic weathering
Oxygen isotope-inferred ages as old as the Jurassic have been derived from weathered monzogranite underlying the folded Mount Augustus Sandstone, which forms the massive anticlinal Burringurrah (or Mount Augustus) inselberg, in the Gascoyne district of Western Australia. This large inselberg stands ~700 m above the surrounding duricrusted Neogene Gascoyne planation surface at ~400 m. The 1150 m thick Mount Augustus Sandstone (c. 1620 Ma), buried by some 10 km of rock of the Edmund and Collier Groups, underwent folding during the Edmundian Orogeny (1030-950 Ma). Abundant Permian glacial deposits throughout western and southern Australia suggest that the landscape was extensively impacted by a continental ice mass during the Gondwanan Permian glaciation, and which provides a maximum age for most recorded chemical weathering profiles within Australia. Nine samples of kaolinite were collected from a 30 m deep exposure of weathered monzogranite cropping out in the core of the anticline beneath the overlying Mount Augustus Sandstone within the topographic amphitheatre of 'The Pound'. Four samples from the profile were analysed, revealing two ages of weathering. The higher samples immediately below the unconformably overlying boulder ferricrete (δ18OVSMOW values of +12.0 and +14.0‰) imply a Jurassic to early Cretaceous weathering age, while the lower samples (δ18OVSMOW values of +17.6 and +18.3‰) are indicative of a Neogene age. These results suggest downward 'younging' of the profile consistent with a top-down advancing weathering front that developed after uncapping of the anticlinal inselberg and exposure of the underlying monzogranite to surficial chemical weathering. A long-term rate of landscape denudation of ~11 m/Ma is estimated from established geological events, rock ages and thicknesses. Dykes and quartz veins suggest that Burringurrah was still deeply buried 500 Ma ago, with the denudation rate indicating exposure of the upper surface of the Mount Augustus Sandstone by ~100 Ma. The oxygen isotope data suggest that weathering of the monzogranite beneath the Mount Augustus Sandstone occurred during Jurassic to early Cretaceous times (~200 to 100 Ma), ages broadly coincident with those derived from the application of denudation rates. This suggests that Burringurrah initially developed as an inselberg prior to at least the past 100 Ma. The younger ages from lower parts of the profile suggest that weathering continued into the Neogene/Quaternary (23 Ma to present), during which time the surrounding, now dissected, planation surface was also weathered.