Playing with sand on an industrial scale at Weymouth Beach in Dorset this week, earth moving machinery has been restoring the shore to pristine condition by redistributing imported sand – ensuring plenty for sun-bathing and sand castle-making before the better weather and the influx of visitors arrive in this new season.
There were no other visitors on the dull day that we turned off the Cabot Trail to look at the Corney Brook shore in the western Cape Breton Highlands. There was very low cloud cover, and it began to rain after a while, but there were treasures to be found – at least if you are like me and are fascinated by beach stones. Three main rock types are found at Corney Brook. The oldest are Neoproterozoic-Ordovician granitic pluton rocks of the Bras D’Or Terrane. Ordovician-Silurian metasedimentary rocks of the Aspy Terrane are slightly younger. And red sandstones and conglomerates belonging to the Horton Group come from the Devonian to Carboniferous Period.
The stones on the beach include all three types and probably a lot more due to the glaciation of the area. I wish I could identify and tell you the exact composition of each photographed pebble, stone or boulder – but that is tough for an amateur to determine. There is a great variety of colour, pattern, and texture to the stones which look dull when dry but amazing when wet. They include igneous and metamorphosed rocks like granite, gneiss, schist as well as sedimentary rocks like sandstone. It is possible to see just how difficult it is to not only understand the texts but also to convert into straight forward language for the non-specialist reader from the following detailed description that I discovered about the Corney Brook schist by Jamieson et al. (1987).
Comey Brook schist (unit 3d)
Medium- to high-grade pelitic and semi-pelitic schists, with minor marble and psammite, occurring on the Cheticamp River, Corney Brook, the northeastern end of Jumping Brook, and the central highlands near Calumruadh and Coinneach brooks, are referred to here as the Corney Brook schist. This unit is equivalent to the “medium grade belt” of Craw (1984). Pelitic and semi-pelitic members of the unit characteristically contain coarse staurolite, biotite, and garnet porphyroblasts, with kyanite at the highest grade, in a phyllitic to schistose matrix. Medium- to high-grade marbles, quartzites, albite schists and hornblendite recognized in the Corney Brook area (Plint et al., 1986) have not yet been identified south of the Cheticamp River. Centimetre- to metre-scale compositional layering, folded by tight to isoclinal folds, is interpreted as transposed bedding. Based on bulk compositions and rare relict primary textures, the Corney Brook schist is interpreted to have formed as a suite of clastic sediments interlayerd with felsic tuffs and minor basic flows – that is, it appears to represent the higher grade equivalents of units 3a-3c.
The softer sandstone cliffs are being eroded back by the sea. This has implications for the ground higher up and the roadway further back from the shore. For this reason a sea defence structure has been emplaced to protect the base of the cliffs. This is a gabion made of wire cages full of large beach stones and boulders that are stacked up into a wall, positioned at the most vulnerable part of the shore.
Black Brook Cove along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, gets its name from the dark colour of the river water which flows into it. On the southern edge of the cove, the upper banks of the estuary are piled high with large bleached driftwood lying on a bed of boulders and pebbles. Curving banks of pebbles on the main body of the beach give way to smooth waterworn rock outcrops; and spectacular jagged cliffs surmounted by pines form the northern arm of the cove.
The rocks at Black Brook Cove are part of the Devonian Black Brook Granitic Suite formed about 375 million years ago. They are igneous plutonic rocks. The magma from which they formed was created by the melting and recrystallization of meta-sedimentary rocks that were sub-ducted during the collision of the ancient land masses called Ganderia and Avalonia.
The remarkable feature of the rocky outcrops at Black Brook Cove, and at Green Cove just a little further south, is the number of criss-crossing dykes or veins of contrasting colour that create abstract angular patterns on the rock surfaces. These patterns and colours are accentuated when the rock is wet. The whole beachscape is captivating on a bright sunny afternoon but the area must look its best after a heavy downpour of rain.
The main rock is a grey granite with small black flakes of biotite. Earth movements and increased pressures on numerous occasions subsequent to its emplacement have cracked the rock and opened up fissures into which certain minerals that were squeezed out of the mother rock have entered and recrystallized. Mostly the veins formed in this way are composed of aplite or pegmatite. Both are pink-orange in colour Aplite is made of quartz and feldspar and is fine-grained with a smooth sugary texture. Pegmatite is darker and coarser with large visible individual crystals of quartz, feldspar and mica in both the black biotite and clear muscovite forms.
Anoiyothin, W.Y. and Barr, S.M. (1991) Petrology of the Black Brook Granitic Suite, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Canadian Minerologist, Vol. 29, pp. 499-515.
Barr, S.M. and Pride, C.R. (1986) Petrogenesis of two contrasting Devonian Granitic Plutons, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Canadian Minerologist, Vol.. 24, pp. 137-146.
Donohoe, H. V. Jnr, White, C. E., Raeside, R. P. and Fisher, B. E, (2005) Geological Highway Map of Nova Scotia, Third Edition. Atlantic Geoscience Society Special Publication #1.
Hickman Hild, M. and Barr, S. M. (2015) Geology of Nova Scotia, A Field Guide, Touring through time at 48 scenic sites, Boulder Publications, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. ISBN 978-1-927099-43-8, pp. 94-97.
Atlantic Geoscience Society (2001) The Last Billion Years – A Geological History of the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Atlantic Geoscience Society Special Publication No. 15, Nimbus Publishing, ISBN 1-55109-351-0.
Crystal Cliffs Beach lies a few miles from Antigonish on the north coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. It overlooks St George’s Bay close to the Northumberland Strait. It consists of a sand and pebble spit that dams back the water of Ogden’s Brook to form a large shallow lake known as Ogden’s Pond. The waters are tidal as there is a narrow inlet/outlet to the sea. In winter, the lake is more extensive as evidenced by the quantity of dead vegetation visible in marginal marshy areas. The ripples of the slowly moving water in the Pond reflected intricate patterns of blue sky and white clouds.
Boulders and pebbles dominate the upper levels of the spit, along with blanched driftwood, and sparse vegetation such as marram grass. The lower levels are mostly coarse sand. Occasional mammal bones rest on the tide line, perhaps from a seal. Cobble-size and larger beach stones of limestone, sandstone, and conglomerate are strewn across the shore – but the most noticeable and are the ones with orange and white crystals of gypsum that have come from the nearby cliffs that give the beach its name. The cliffs are composed of Early Carboniferous Limestone belonging to the Windsor Group with substantial gleaming surfaces of white gypsum. Viewed from the sea by kayak, the cliffs are said to be a marvellous sight. The only part visible from the beach at high tide, at this particular time, showed a relatively recent and massive rock fall defacing that outcrop.
The sea water lapping against the sand, on this crisp and sunny spring day, was crystal clear, revealing through a distorting lens of saline the multitudes of coloured pebbles on the seabed. The wave-textured surface made abstract patterns of sunlit reflections. It was a beautiful place to experience.
The sand on the Island of Herm, which is one of the Channel Islands, is mostly made of shells and shell fragments. A good place to examine the sand is Belvoir Bay where waves and currents wash shells ashore and break them up. The small cove lies at the foot of modest cliffs of Herm Granodiorite with xenoliths; and eroding rocky outcrops strew the shore at the base of the cliffs. Hollows and crevices in these rocks are filled with coarse shell sand containing many intact little shells of both bivalve and gastropod molluscs. Even minute sea urchin tests survive. I took a handful of the sand home to photograph against a scale, and compare them with some mature-size shells from the same beach and nearby Shell Beach. I have fond memories of visiting the island and collecting shells there forty years ago.