Adelaide Geosyncline

Adelaide Geosyncline

The Adelaide Geosyncline (also known as Adelaide Rift Complex) is a major geological province in central South Australia. It stretches from the northernmost parts of the Flinders Ranges, narrowing at the Fleurieu Peninsula and extending into Kangaroo Island, and composes the two major mountain ranges of the State: the Flinders Ranges and the Mount Lofty Ranges. The sediments in the rift complex were deposited between about 870 Ma (the middle Neoproterozoic) to ~500 Ma (the end of the Cambrian). They consist of a thick pile of sedimentary rocks and minor volcanic rocks that were deposited on the eastern margin of Australia during the time of break up of the supercontinent Rodinia. A number of authors have noted the similarity in these sedimentary rocks with rocks found in western North America and have suggested that they were formerly adjacent to each other in Rodinia. This is one major correlation in the so-called SWEAT (SW USA against East Antarctica) reconstruction of Rodinia (Moores 1991; Dalziel 1991).



The Adelaide Geosyncline is a great belt of sediments, deposited in a depression during a time of lithospheric stretching in an arc approximately a thousand kilometres long and several hundred kilometres wide. The thickest parts of the belt are approximately 24,000 m thick. Limestones, shales, and sandstones indicate a predominantly marine environment.

Delamerian Orogeny

This sedimentation ended towards the Cambrian, when plate movements changed and the area experienced an orogeny (mountain-building period) extending into the Ordovician. Foden et al. (2006) suggest that this orogeny lastet from ~514 Ma to 500 Ma. This event is called the Delamerian Orogeny, named after a small town on the Fleurieu Peninsula where evidence was found for the event. The orogeny caused substantial folding, buckling, and faulting of the strata, and resulted in the creation of a major mountain range, the eroded stumps of which can today be seen as the Mount Lofty and Flinders Ranges.

Accompanying this folding and faulting were several intrusions: the granites at Victor Harbor were intruded at this time, as were those at Palmer in the eastern South Mount Lofty Ranges.

Not all of the Geosyncline experienced tectonic activity; the deposits in the Stuart Shelf to the northwest remained undisturbed (and still do today), while limestones and shales were deposited in the Cooper and Pedirka Basins to the north and northeast.

Stratigraphic column

Eon Era Period Local division General name Mt Lofty Ranges Flinders Ranges
Phanerozoic Palaeozoic Unconformity overlaid by Permian glacial sediments
Cambrian Mid-late Lake Frome group not exposed Limestones, sandstones
Early Kanmantoo group Metamorphosed schists, greywackes, gneisses Shales, siltstones
Normanville group / Hawker group Limestones
Proterozoic Neoproterozoic Ediacaran Marinoan Wilpena group   Pound subgroup: quartzites, massive sandstones
ABC Range quartzite
Brachina formation: purple siltstones
Dolomites Nuccaleena formation dolomite (marker bed)
Cryogenian Umberatana group Reynella formation: shales, siltstones Glaciation event: Yerelina subgroup tillites
Angepena formation: shales, siltstones
Sturtian Brighton limestone Dolomites
First of the Sturtian-Varangian glaciations: Sturt tillite
Burra group Belair subgroup: shales, sandstones Shales, siltstones, etc.
Torrensian Glen Osmond slate
Beaumont dolomite
Stonyfell quartzite
Aldgate sandstone Conglomerates
Willouran Callanna beds / Mount Painter complex not exposed Wooltana volcanics
Unconformity underlain by metamorphosed Mesoproterozoic basement

Fossil life

Fossils are to be found in the Geosyncline; those discovered in the Ediacara Hills of the northern Flinders in 1946 are of worldwide significance for being some of the oldest examples of fossilised animal life ever found. They date from the very end of the Neoproterozoic, and in 2004 the location gave its name to the last geological period of the era, the Ediacaran.

Recent geological history

See also: Geomorphology of the Mount Lofty Ranges

The ranges formed during the Delamerian orogeny continue to erode, and intra-plate subsidence is occurring. In the South Mount Lofty Ranges this has resulted in rifting and the formation of graben structures, creating the long parallel faults which shape the Adelaide Plains.

See also

Further reading

  • Foden J., Elburg M.A., Smith P.B., Dougherty-Page J. and Burtt A. 2006. The timing and duration of the Delamerian orogeny: correlation with the Ross Orogen and implications for Gondwana assembly. The Journal of Geology, 114, 189-210.
  • Ludbrook N.H., A guide to the geology and mineral resources of South Australia. Government Printer, 1980.
  • Preiss W.V. 1987. The Adelaide Geosyncline, late Proterozoic stratigraphy, sedimentation, palaeontology and tectonics. Bulletin of Geological Survey, South Australia, 53, 438 pp.
  • Atlas of South Australia

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