Nature and origins of granitic regolith in bauxite mine floors in the Darling Range, Western Australia

G.A. Kew, Robert Gilkes, Charter Mathison

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    Chemical and physical weathering of primary minerals during the formation of laterite profiles in the Darling Range has formed distinct secondary mineral and morphological zones in the regolith. Erosion and human activity such as mining have exposed large areas of lateritic regolith, and its classification is important for land management, especially for mine rehabilitation. Preserved rock fabrics within regolith may enable the identification of parent rock type and degree of weathering, thus providing explanations for variations in important physical properties such as the strength and water retention of regolith. Feldspar, quartz, biotite and muscovite in porphyritic and fine-grained monzogranite in lateritic profiles have weathered via a series of gradational changes to form saprolite and pedolith consisting of kaolin, quartz, iron oxides, muscovite and gibbsite. Local reorganisation in the upper regolith or pedoplasmation zone has included illuviation of kaolin, which may be iron oxide-stained and which has disrupted the preserved rock fabric of saprock and saprolite. Quartz grain- or matrix-supported fabrics have developed, with greater pedoplasmation resulting in a quartz-grain-supported fabric. The recognition of these processes enables the use of gibbsite grainsize and distribution in regolith to infer original feldspar grainsize. Muscovite-rich or muscovite-deficient kaolin matrix indicates where plagioclase or alkali feldspar, respectively, was present in the parent rock. In some regolith, cementing by iron oxides has faithfully preserved rock fabric. The recognition of these various regolith types provides a basis for identifying the parent materials of lateritic regolith developed from granitic and doleritic rocks. Rock fabric is sometimes preserved in iron oxide-cemented bauxite mine floor regolith (Zh) due to the pseudomorphic gibbsite grains and iron oxide cement which forms a porous, rigid fabric. Plagioclase-rich granitoid is more likely to have weathered to dense clay-rich regolith (Zp), whereas albite and alkali feldspar have weathered to quartz-rich regolith (Zm) with the random orientation of quartz grains indicating that substantial reorganisation of rock fabric has occurred. It is possible to predict the response of regolith materials exposed in mine floors to management practices including ripping and re-vegetation, thus allowing targeted use of deep-ripping and planting density based on regolith type.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)473-492
    JournalAustralian Journal of Earth Sciences
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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