The place where I took these photographs is marked on the map as an island but it is actually just a tiny promontory near to the village of Fermoyle, along the Dingle Way, on the north coast of the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. I am sure that most people visit the location for its wonderful long unsullied sandy beach. However, I was drawn to this particular part, at the extreme western end of the beach, because of its fascinating geomorphology. The rocks are sandstones and conglomerates (mostly but not exclusively red) of the Glengarriff Harbour Group from the Devonian Period. The bright olive, lime, yellow and orange colours of the seaweeds, and the black, yellow and white of encrusting lichens, clash garishly with the red rocks. The rock strata are clearly defined: sometimes on-end, sometimes as flat bedding planes, and in one place a dome of strata lies cut-away and exposed. Beach stones rather than pebbles cover a portion of this area; and there are also occasional huge boulders composed of conglomerate scattered along the shore nearest the inlet from Brandon Bay.
At Eype, blue clay cliffs slip, and subsequently unsupported rock strata above it collapse. Large boulders then roll down to the shingle shore. The variety of rock types, and sometimes the fossils within them (like belemnites), can be observed at close quarters. The newly surf-washed rocks, part-embedded in the bright orange pea-gravel and pebbles, make striking compositions with the wet surfaces revealing a greater intensity of colour, and finer detail of texture and structure.
Click here for earlier posts about EYPE.
The rocks at Fall Bay are arrayed like the riffled pages of a book. Layer after layer of Carboniferous Limestone is sequentially spread out across the west side of the bay. Each layer has an observably different texture; some are bioturbated with bioclasts and fossils such as fragmentary crinoids and corals. The bedding planes of some strata have deeply sculptured surfaces from weathering and bioerosion. Lichens, barnacles and limpets colonise the rocks and take advantage of the meagre shelter offered by cracks, crevices, and solution hollows.
The first selection of photographs taken at Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset, England, yesterday (27 March 2015) showing details of the natural patterns, textures, and colours of the rocks. The rocks are described as rhythmically inter-bedded blocky, organic-poor mudstone and fissile, organic rich shale.
For information about the geology of this location look at:
John C. W. Cope Geology of the Dorset Coast, Geologists’ Association Guide No. 22, Geologists’ Association, 2012, pp 159-167, ISBN978 0900717 61 1.
M. A Woods (compiler) Geology of south Dorset and south-east Devon and its World Heritage Coast, British Geology Survey, NERC, 2011, pp 61 – 67, ISBN 978 085272654 9.
Extreme low tides at Rhossili on Gower allow access to parts of the cliffs less frequently inspected. The distal north face of the Rhossili headland shows a complex mixture of natural and man-made features, on both a minor and major scale, often impossible to distinguish. The Carboniferous limestone was at one time quarried and this has resulted in changes of shape in the cliff face. However, most of the characteristic cracks, crevices and caves are the result of the waves and the weather working upon naturally-occurring fissures and cavities in the exposed bedrock surface.
On a small scale, it is possible to see where fractures in the Black Rock Limestone, sometimes infilled by white crystalline calcite and red haematite, are the lines of weakness along which erosion is progressing. These natural clefts are typically wider towards the outside, narrowing down to the width of the crack. The wearing away and widening of the break in the rock is initiated by mechanical and chemical action of waves and rain. Once the crevice has started to widen, it becomes a habitat for small organisms which add to the erosion process, again by both mechanical action and acid erosion.
In the photographs accompanying this post, it is possible to see some conical limpets, small acorn barnacles, and spots of bright orange sponge taking advantage of the relative shelter of these natural clefts; while minute blue-black mussel spat frequently settle (at least temporally) in the narrow confines of the crack itself. The clefts tend to retain moisture to a greater degree than the main cliff face, and may act as channels for water to drain downwards to the beach. These damp locations make ideal places for microscopic algae and bacteria to grow, and for mud-tube dwelling marine worms to thrive, especially low down, near the mobile beach sediments. Mostly, it is the former presence of the worms that is indicated. The level of the sand and pebbles fluctuates and affects the survivability of the worms. They leave a strange texture on the rock surface – composed of thousands of burrows or tunnels, just a few millimetres in width, that were incidentally etched by their acidic metabolic waste products.
A strange phenomenon of the colourful sandstone at Redend Point in Studland Bay is the natural occurrence of hollow pipes or tubes running through the rocks. No-one seems certain about the way they have formed geologically but it is something to do with the way that water-borne iron minerals have settled out in the sandstone.
You can see the open ends of these intriguing features underfoot in the wave cut platform around the base of the cliffs – half concealed sometimes by seaweed and flint pebbles; on the floors of shallow caves where they can resemble small volcanoes; on the ceilings of the undercut rock where you can sometimes see daylight shining through the tubes from higher up in the cliff; broken open in fallen beach boulders and on the cliff face itself; and as strange pedestals at the base of the cliff where the sea has eroded away the softer surrounding rock to isolate the naturally occurring iron-lined hollow pipes.