Edinburgh – home of the Scottish Parliament, Military Tattoo, Princes Street and gardens, Scott memorial, Murrayfield, Valvona and Crolla’s food emporium, sundry pubs (!), volcanoes…Eh, volcanoes?
Surprising as it may be to some people, Edinburgh plays host to a great variety of igneous rocks. The most obvious and in our case, the most interesting, are the volcano remnants of Arthur’s Seat, and the Castle Rock. These are long extinct and date from the Lower Carboniferous, about 350 million years ago. Arthur’s Seat, the larger of these, is assumed to be the main structure, the other a subsidiary, or satellite vent. These are central pipe vents from pipe conduits, cf linear conduits as associated with fissure eruptions.
The rock of Arthur’s Seat is mainly a vent agglomerate with several crystal phyric microgabbro eruption pipes (Lions Head and Lions Haunch vents so called as at a distance the remnants resemble a lion lying down) – agglomerate being a mix of explosive block and vent collapse debris, ash and lava, whilst crystal phyric refers to the presence of some minerals present with larger crystals than the background rock. The presence of gabbro in the conduit pipes indicates these volcanoes erupted a basaltic lava, gabbro being the intrusive coarse grained equivalent to basalt being of the same mineralogical composition. (Dolerite, or Diabase to some authors, again has the same composition, but has a grain size intermediate between basalt and gabbro and is usually assigned to these rocks when found in dyke and sill intrusions). The combined vent material as mapped, gives an irregular vent of 750-1000 metres across.
Picture of pipe brecciated St Austell granite to illustrate vent agglomerate appearance; a true vent agglomerate has a much larger fragment range in both size and composition however.
The opening picture shows the main vents of the Lions Head (left) and Lions Haunch (right) in the background, with Salisbury Crags in front; these are the quarried remains of a post volcanic episode Teschenite (olivine analcime microgabbro – analcime is a hydrous sodic zeolite mineral comparable to feldspathoids; zeolite minerals usually being associated with vesicle-filling in amygdaloidal basalt flows) sill intruded into sub-volcanic sediments of Lower Carboniferous age.
Salisbury Crags are part of a site dedicated to James Hutton, who has been called the ‘Father of Geology’. It was here that Hutton part formulated his theory of Uniformitarianism, that confounded the existing Neptunism movement that insisted the Earth dated from the biblical Great Flood, by siting the presence of a rock of obvious molten origin being intruded into sediments/volcanic rock, the sediments being just visible below the sill.
Distal from the volcano, mapping and borehole evidence shows there to be up to 250metres thickness of tuffs and lavas adjacent to the vent and in the Midlothian borehole, some 10km to the south east, approximately 70m of volcanic material was found at the horizon of the Arthurs Seat volcanics.
Castle Rock is the erosional core of a relatively small and assumed satellite volcano off Arthurs Seat, composed of microgabbro approximately 150 metres in diameter. The vent again cuts through shallow water marine sediments of Lower Carboniferous – Dinantian – age. These sediments comprise predominantly sandstones and minor shale horizons; but it should be noted that in some texts the sediments erroneously are noted as limestones, a confusion arising from the rocks of this age being assigned to the Carboniferous Limestone division.
The reference cited here below gives an artists impression of Edinburgh with the two volcanoes superimposed along with an imaginary sea level – with a lot of imagination this image could well have been a Carboniferous equivalent of El Hierro (Arthurs Seat complete with aerial cone) and our Bob (Castle Rock)!
More recently, during the last Ice Age, ice sheet movement has produced a classic example of a ‘crag-and-tail’ with the Castle Rock – the crag – protecting the bedded Carboniferous sediments of the Royal Mile – the tail – from ice erosion, indicating mass ice movement from the west. More recently, the ice-deepened gouge channel on the north side (Princes Street gardens) has been utilised by the railway as an ideal route through the city!