Beach Stones at Ferriters Cove

View of Ferriters Cove on the Dingle PeninsulaBetween rocky outcrops and promontories at Ferriters Cove lie stretches of sandy beach with patches of water-worn beach stones and smaller pebbles. The stones are derived from a variety of Silurian strata, not only from this cove but also from the coast further to the north which is also composed of Silurian Period rocks.

Pebbles at Trabeg on the Dingle Peninsula

Pebbles of many colours on the beach

The sand looks black from a distance as you descend to the shore at Trá Chathail near An Trá Bheag (Short Strand) – otherwise known as Trabeg. The path cuts down deep through the stratified red rocks to get to the beach which is strewn with pebbles, mostly shades of red, maroon, green, grey, and white.

Trabeg is on the south coast of the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, and is the “type section” of the Trabeg Conglomerate Formation which is exposed in the cliffs on the beach. This is place where that particular rock type was first described. The rock layers constitute part of the Dingle Group and were formed in the Devonian period between 345 and 395 million years ago. The conglomerates are composed of fairly well rounded pebbles of red sandstones and mudstones, with white vein quartz and chert. A few pebbles of volcanic rock and of grey limestone are also present.

The way in which the conglomerate rock has formed from the mass movement and subsequent accumulation of debris from terrestrial locations during, for example, river flood events, means that the pebbles are derived from a wide area covering many different geological types. The pebble beds or conglomerates are inter-bedded with layers of red sandstones and mudstones, the finer sediments of which were deposited normally by rivers during non-storm/flood times. The alternating layers are now tilted from the original horizontal orientation in which they were first deposited, and are clear to see dipping south at about 70 degrees.

As the cliffs at Trá Chathail are worn away by the action of waves and weathering, the pebbles contained in the conglomerate matrix are freed up and remain the shore below – an instant pebble beach. Added to these are pieces of other rock or matrix that became rounded into pebbles after they arrived on the beach. Some pebbles and rocks may have been transported by wave action from further along the coast were the geology is quite different: from the Eask Formation, West Cork Sandstone, Bulls Head Formation, and the earlier Silurian rocks of the Dunquin Group.

REFERENCE

Horne, Ralph R. (1976) Geological Guide to the Dingle Peninsula, Geological Survey of Ireland Guide Series No. 1, reprinted 1999.

Red pebbles with pattern of quartz veins

Beach stone with white quartz on the beach

Red pebbles with pattern of quartz veins

Beach stone with white quartz on the beach

Beach stone with white quartz on the beach

Beach stone with white quartz on the beach

Beach stone with white quartz on the beach

Beach stone with white quartz on the beach

Pebbles on the beach

View looking south from Tracahill Beach

Close-up of Trabeg Conglomerate Formation

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2014

All Rights Reserved

A Galway Shore – Part 1

A seaweed covered shore on the edge of Galway Bay

A cold and rainy day in March saw me exploring a beach on the west coast of Ireland in Galway Bay, between Galway City and Salthill.  Braving the inclement weather were joggers, plugged-in to headphones and clutching water bottles, as they ran along the promenade at the top of the shore. One or two individuals strolled with raincoats flapping and umbrellas braced against the wind. I had the seashore itself more-or-less to myself.

It is a sheltered, gently sloping, sandy shore where coloured pebbles accumulate at the top of the beach. Line after line of boulders, like loosely constructed groynes, stretch from high to low water mark dividing the shore into sections. They remind me of the stone walls that seem to proliferate in countryside and hill slopes all along this coast. Each beach section is like a field where mid- to low-shore rocks anchor a crop of seaweed – a profusion of vegetation that drapes each boulder and spreads out to blanket the surrounding sand.

The cloud-filled sky and persistent rain make the beach seem, from a distance, dull, almost monochromatic and melancholic – but that is an illusion. Close up, the limestone and granite pebbles provide a mosaic of many colours, intensified by the wetness. The seaweeds are made up of many types with a range of hues. Golden yellow fruiting bodies, and fronds in shades of olive, mark out the dominant Egg Wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum). Finely-branched red Wrack Siphon Weed (Polysiphonia lanosa) contrasts with the Egg Wrack on which it grows epiphytically.  Darker greens and browns are typical of the smaller Bladder Wrack (Fucus vesiculosus). Short curling clumps of greenish-yellow early-stage Channel Wrack (Pelvetia canaliculata) are distinct. Both limpet shells and mussel shells show patches of dark brown encrusting algae (probably Brown Limpet Paint, Ralfsia verrucosa). The seaweeds splash colour across rocks, pebbles and sand. – and the rocks themselves originate from different locations, sedimentary or igneous, with their own subtle colouring, texture and patterns.

How different this scene must look when the tide is in and the seaweed can float upright and sway in the waves. It really must look like an underwater field. The Egg Wrack (growing up to a metre and a half long) has egg-sized and egg-shaped air bladders, one formed every year along each frond, to aid buoyancy. The much shorter Bladder Wrack has small rounded air bladders in pairs either side of the midribs to help it float.

When the intertidal shore is submerged, acorn barnacles (Cirripedia) and edible mussels (Mytilus edulis) attached to the rocks can filter food particles from the water. The huge numbers of large limpets and common periwinkles living amongst and feeding upon the seaweed, and grazing red and yellow biofilms that encrust the rocks, can move far more easily and for greater distances when buoyed up by water and there is no danger of dessication – although they can be active when exposed to air at low tide if conditions remain cool and moist.

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2014

All Rights Reserved

More pebbles at Rhossili after storms

More pebbles are visible on the beach at Rhossili on the Gower Peninsula since last winter’s storms. Of course, they were always there but not so many on show. Lots were hidden beneath the sand. The greater number of pebbles is noticeable as soon as you arrive at the beach via the path through the dunes from Hillend campsite. Looking north towards Burry Holms, and south towards Worms Head, a wider band of pebbles than usual is immediately noticeable at the top of the shore.

As you walk towards Diles Lake, which is the stream that flows across the shore from Llangennith Marshes, the pebble layer deepens into a wide bank that more or less dams the stream. This place is subject to frequent change as a result of changes in weather, tides, and currents. It can sometimes be difficult to cross, especially in winter. Right now though, crossing is easy because the stream mostly runs beneath the pebbles, with only a narrow watercourse visible on the surface. It is clear that not only are more pebbles around because sand has been washed away from them but also the pebbles have been pushed up the shore with great force.

Pebbles at Kilmurrin Cove – Part 2

Wet beach stones of volcanic rock

Here are some more examples of the pebbles at Kilmurrin Cove on the Copper Coast in County Waterford, Southern Ireland (see the previous post). Again, most of them seem to be volcanic rocks of Ordovician age, derived from the underlying bedrock of the beach and the outcrops in the surrounding cliffs, and including rhyolite in its solidified lava form and also as consolidated volcanic ash and breccias. Some stones may be of different geological types and origins, having been brought from much further afield and deposited by melting ice sheets.

This time most of the beach stones were photographed at the western end of the beach where  the stream or small river, that is dammed-up behind the pebble bank, surfaces through the stones and makes a break for the sea via jagged outcropping bedrock. The water is stained tea-colour by the peat through which it has flowed down the glaciated valley.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them and see the description.

Pebbles underwater in a beach stream

Dry beach stones with frond of seaweed

Wet beach stones and pebbles on the beach

Wet beach stones in a cove rimmed by cliffs of Ordovician rock topped by glacial deposits

Kilmurrin Cove pebbles on the Copper Coast in Ireland

Dry beach stones with washed up kelp

Pebbles with spots and stripes at Kimurrin Cove

Wet beach stones of mainly Ordovician volcanic origin

Pebbles underwater in a beach stream

Wet beach stones at Kilmurrin Cove

Wet beach stones at Kilmurrin Cove

Wet pebbles with sea foam bubbles at Kilmurrin Cove

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2014

All Rights Reserved

 

Pebbles at Kilmurrin Cove – Part 1

Spotty rhyolite pebble with phenocrysts

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.

Natural patterns, shapes and textures in pebbles on the beach

Beach stone with stripes and spots

View of a pebble beach on a Copper Coast in Southern Ireland

Pebble bank on the shore at Kilmurrin Cove

Dry beach stones on the Copper Coast in Ireland

Natural patterns, shapes and textures in pebbles on the beach

Natural patterns, shapes and textures in pebbles on the beach

Natural pattern of banding in a rhyolite pebble

View of the west end of Kilmurrin Cove showing river dammed by large pebble bank.

View of the west end of Kilmurrin Cove with stream crossing exposed Ordovician rocks

Natural patterns, shapes and textures in pebbles on the beach

Dry beach stones on the Copper Coast in Ireland

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2014

All Rights Reserved