Geological significance of Coorong dolomites



Microcrystalline dolomite and related carbonate minerals have been forming throughout the Quaternary in shallow ephemeral alkaline lakes on the coastal plain of the Coorong area in southern Australia. These Coorong dolomites differ significantly from sabkha-type dolomites. They form in areas where evaporation rates during summer months exceed groundwater inflow rates to a series of alkaline lakes. This results in the lakes becoming desiccated during summer months. Brines resulting from this drying phase are then refluxed out of the system into seaward-flowing groundwaters of an unconfined coastal aquifer. Dolomites and other fine-grained carbonates remain behind, whilst saline and sulphate evaporite minerals are flushed out of the system. Progressive restriction by sedimentation in and around the Holocene coastal dolomite lakes results in an upward-shoaling sedimentary cycle. Basal sediments which formed in a restricted marine environment pass upwards to lacustrine dolomites or magnesites exhibiting desiccation and groundwater resurgence structures such as mudcracks and teepees. The upper Proterozoic Skillogallee Dolomite Formation, an early rift basin unit of the Adelaide Supergroup, contains dolomites which show many of the features characteristic of the peculiar groundwater hydrology which plays an important role in Coorong dolomite genesis. These features include aphanitic dolomites which lack relict saline or sulphate evaporite minerals. The Skillogallee Dolomite Formation in some areas overlies an earlier dolomitic unit, informally named the Callanna Beds, typified by abundant pseudomorphs after sulphate minerals. Sabkha style dolomites characterizing the Callanna Beds are replaced up-section by the Coorong-type dolomite of the Skillogallee Dolomite Formation. This implies the development of an increasingly more active groundwater regime. The ultimate source and mode of concentration of the necessary Mg required to form both the modern and ancient dolomites remain imperfectly understood.