Fabulous folds: Variscan tectonics in southwest England

Jens Lehmann (Germany) Plate tectonics drove the continent-continent collision of Euramerica and Gondwana, roughly 280 to 380mya. This mountain-building phase of the late Palaeozoic era is referred to as the Variscan Orogeny and eventually formed the supercontinent Pangaea. This was largely complete by the end of the Carboniferous and many of today’s secondary mountains in Europe are ascribed to the Variscan phase. In the UK, this event formed a couple of spectacular places for geotourism at the boundary between Devon and Cornwall. When visiting southwest England, you should not miss these spots – they are surely among the most impressive places in the world showing the effects of tectonics. A tiny settlement but tremendous in geology A tiny settlement on Cornwall’s coast gives the name for surely the most famous spot for folded sedimentary rocks in the UK – Millook Haven. A narrow, winding road leads down the hillside, with a gradient of 30° (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. At the top of the winding road down to Millook Haven. But, after surviving the journey downhill, you are rewarded by a cliff with spectacularly folded Carboniferous sediments (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. A group of geology students visiting the spectacular Millook Haven cliffs. On a global scale, coal swamps are typical of the late Carboniferous period. However, in Cornwall and Devon, no economically viable coal was deposited. In southwest England, alternating sand- and claystones, which had been transported by submarine currents with material mainly in suspension, were formed in an environment far … Read More

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