The Warnie volcanoes – cricket-mad scientists discover volcanoes in our own backyard

  Last updated August 15, 2019 at 11:07 am


A volcanic region has been discovered in central Australia, and it’s been celebrated in the most Aussie way possible – by being named after cricket legend Shane Warne.

volcanic region_volcano_volcano eruption

Back in the Jurassic period, central Australia was a fiery place. Credit: Westend61

A team of explorers  have uncovered a previously undescribed ‘Jurassic World’ of around 100 ancient volcanoes buried deep within the Cooper-Eromanga Basins of central Australia.

The region named the Warnie Volcanic Province, had gone unnoticed despite 60 years of petroleum exploration and production.

The discovery suggests there was a lot more volcanic activity in the Jurassic period than first thought.

Despite heavy exploration, the volcanoes have gone unnoticed

The team of explorers, including researchers from the University of Adelaide and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, discovered the region by using a range of imaging techniques to find the volcanic craters, lava flows and deep magma chambers that fed them.

The researchers say the volcanoes developed between 180 and 160 million years ago, and have been subsequently buried beneath hundreds of metres of sedimentary – or layered – rocks.

The Cooper-Eromanga Basins in the north-eastern corner of South Australia and south-western corner of Queensland is Australia’s largest onshore oil and gas producing region of Australia. But, despite about 60 years of petroleum exploration and production, this ancient Jurassic volcanic underground landscape has gone largely unnoticed.

The basins are now a dry and barren landscape but in Jurassic times, the researchers say, would have been a landscape of craters and fissures, spewing hot ash and lava into the air, and surrounded by networks of river channels, evolving into large lakes and coal-swamps.

“While the majority of Earth’s volcanic activity occurs at the boundaries of tectonic plates, or under the Earth’s oceans, this ancient Jurassic world developed deep within the interior of the Australian continent,” says co-author Simon Holford, from the University of Adelaide.

“Its discovery raises the prospect that more undiscovered volcanic worlds reside beneath the poorly explored surface of Australia.”

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The Warnie Volcanic Province, found in central Australia. Credit: The University of Adelaide/The University of Aberdeen

The finding changes the understanding of Earth’s processes

The researchers say that Jurassic-aged sedimentary rocks bearing oil, gas and water have been economically important for Australia, but this latest discovery suggests a lot more volcanic activity in the Jurassic period than previously supposed.

“The Cooper-Eromanga Basins have been substantially explored since the first gas discovery in 1963,” says co-author Nick Schofield, from the University of Aberdeen.

“This has led to a massive amount of available data from underneath the ground but, despite this, the volcanics have never been properly understood in this region until now. It changes how we understand processes that have operated in Earth’s past.”

Named after Warnie’s ‘explosive’ talent

And as for the name?

One of the drill holes that penetrated the Jurassic volcanic rocks was actually called Warnie East-1 – named after a nearby waterhole, not the cricketer.

But, the researchers say their inspiration for the name came during a visit to the cricket.

“We wrote much of the paper during a visit to Adelaide by the Aberdeen researchers, when a fair chunk was discussed and written at Adelaide Oval during an England vs Cricket Australia XI match in November 2017,” explained Holford.

“Inspired by the cricket, we thought Warnie a good name for this once fiery region.”


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