Continuing with my Irish pebble and rock theme, trying to understand the phenomena I encountered on my travels, I noticed lots of patterned pebbles on the next shore along the Copper Coast at Kilmurrin Cove in County Waterford. Many of the beach stones had natural patterns based on either spots or stripes, or a combination of the two. As far as I can make out, the spot pattern is due to a phenomenon where thick viscous lava from a volcano is extruded and cools quickly trapping many gas bubbles. The shape of the bubbles is preserved in the solidified lava. Over time, the gas is replaced by minerals such as clear quartz, salmon-coloured K-feldspar, off-white sodium-rich plagioclase, or natural glass, which crystallise in the spaces initially created by the gases. Sometimes the bubble shapes have merged in the lava giving odd shaped spaces for the new minerals to fill.
Rhyolite is one of the rocks in which this happens. It has the same chemical composition as granite but because it is an extrusive rock and cooled quickly, the crystals of the matrix of the rock cannot be distinguished. [Whereas granite is an intrusive rock that cooled slowly giving rise to a rock composed entirely of large visible crystals]. The crystals that make up the solidified lava form of rhyolite are so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye or even with a hand lens. However, the minerals that have percolated into the bubble spaces are macroscopic, they can easily be seen. I think the types of crystals like those shown in image 1.1 are called spherulites; these spherulites are rounded bodies, often coalescing, comprising radial aggregates of needles, usually of quartz or feldspar. Spherulites are generally less than 0.5 cm in diameter, but they may reach a metre or more across – though not in this part of the world as far as I know. These relatively regular structures in the rock can be compared with isolated large crystal inclusions that are known as phenocrysts. Rhyolite with phenocrysts is called porphyritic rhyolite.
A number of the pebbles have parallel lines or swirling layers defined by varying colour or granularity – maybe with spherulites as well. These rhyolite pebbles may be showing flow banding that appears like linear or striped patterns when seen in cross-sections of the rock. The lines have been described as being similar to tree rings. This type of rock is called banded rhyolite and forms from slow flowing lava in which bubble- and crystal-rich layers form on the cooling surface. Multiple flows build up one on top of the other to create the multiple lines. At least that is what I think is shown in these striped pebbles. I am open, as always, to correction. I suppose I can’t rule out that some of the lines I noticed might be Liesegang rings.
Not all rhyolite rocks are solid forms of lava. Rhyolites are mostly tuffs and breccias rather than lavas. Rhyolitic Tuffs are rocks consisting of consolidated volcanic ash ejected from vents during a volcanic explosion, while rhyolitic breccias are composed of larger angular fragments thrown out by the explosions. I’ll talk more about this subject later when I write about my visit to Bunmahon Geological Garden further along the Copper Coast.
As usual, click on the pictures to enlarge them and see the description for the image.
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