MAN VS GEOLOGY : SRI LANKA
The first account of Ceylon Precambrian was done by Wadia (1929). He was instrumental in
completing the draft geological map covers entire Sri Lanka, although some work had been
previously by Ananda Coomaraswamy (1903,1904,). Coates (1935) made more systematic
clarification of rock. Most of the geological work in the early times was based on
morphological variation with less weight on mineralogical & petrological identification. The
geological knowledge of Sri Lanka was able to mark a substantial improvement after intensive
geological mapping and the structural analyses of rock unit late sixties. Improvement of the
understanding of Sri Lanka geology was facilitated further by the addition of scientific
explanation to the field knowledge gained earlier.
Adam ‘s Three Peneplains Theory
The idea of the geology of Sri Lanka was initially come from the morphology of Sri Lankan
terrain and peneplains concept. A peneplains is defined as a “Plain” produced by a long period
of weathering and erosion. The geo morphology of Sri Lanka can best be described as three
major peneplain as described by Frank Dawson Adams in 1929. The lowest peneplains
surrounds the central hill country in all side, and is a flat, sometimes gently undulating plain
stretching to the coast. It has as average height of less than 30m. But the rise around 90 m to
120m above sea level at the inland boundary. The middle peneplain rises from this inner edge
of the lower peneplain in a steep step of about 300m, and reaches a maximum elevation of
760m above sea level: it is best seen in the south and east of the island. Within it and rising
from it in another steep step of 910m to 1200m is the highest peneplain at a general level of
1500 m to 1800m, but rising at some places up to 2100m to 2450m. The all three peneplains
towards the south can best be viewed from Beragala junction in Haputhalaee. Adams though
that the highest peneplain was the oldest of the three and that the island has been rising thought
out its geological history in a slow vertical movement, exposing more and more land to
atmospheric erosion and denudation.
The highest peneplain is least like a peneplain composed of complex plateaus, mountain
chains, massifs and basins. The southern margin of the heist peneplain is demarcated and
Horton plains, Elk plains, Moon plain (Nuwara- Eliya), Kandapola, Sita eliya plains and
comprised of southern mountain in Sri Lanka. ( Piduruthalagala, Kirigal poththa, Thotupola).
The southern margin of the highest peneplain is demarcated by the Adam’s Peak in the west,
Namunukula mountain in the east world’s end in the south Ramboda- Pussellawa in the north
east. The boundary between highest peneplain and the middle peneplain can best be observed
at the world’s end. Number of waterfalls like Diyaluma and Bambarakanda, drops over its
edges to the middle peneplain. Two cliffs, namely Haputhale Gap are also resulted from the
steep rice from middle to highest peneplain.
Moon Plain © Aravinda Ravibhanu 2013
Escarpments can be observed in many places defining the boundary between the middle and
lower peneplains. Hairpin bends at Kandy- Mahiyangana road mark the northern boundary
whereas, the steep east facing escarps of the Knuckles massif demarcate the north west
boundary. As one looks southwards from the Beragala Juntion, Uggalkaltota escarpment can
be seen. Uggalkalthota escarpment separates second and third peneplain at the south of Sri
Lanka. Alagalla, near Rambukkana- Kadugannawa separates the Kandy plateau from the
lowest peneplain at the south west. The lowest peneplain stretches from coast to coast in the
north part of Sri Lanka and from Trincomalee to Hambanthota at the east and the south. Same
features of lowest peneplain can be observed in the western Sri Lanka as well. Some isolated
hills, popularly known as erosional remnants can be observed in the third peneplain (Ex.
Sigiriya, Yapahuwa ect.)
Wadia’s Block Uplift Theory
During the times of D.N.Wadiya, who acted as the Gov mineralogist of Ceylon, had written a
Memo in 1941 suggesting the highland were formed comparatively later by the vertical uplift
of the large block of crust along very large faults, in terms of “Block Uplift”. In contrast, he
proposed that the highest peneplain is the youngest, not the oldest as Adams suggested.
Formation of Three Peneplains: Block Uplift
Wadiya recognized two-fold rock sequences; lower Vijaya series (igneous rock) and upper
Khondalite series (metamorphosed sedimentary rock).He believed the coates(1935) idea, much
younger Khondalite series is associated with Sri Lankan highlands whereas older Vijayan
series located at the lowland. The idea of coates was nicely matched with wadia’s story of block
uplift, which can be used to interpret the formation of Khondalite series as younger group.
Wadia recognized that Charnockites granites and zircon granites as parts of the Vijaya gneiss.
In the late forties geologists were in a point that recognition of rock types are important than
recognition of Sri Lankan basement as a whole. Fernando (1948) came with a suggestion to
the wadia’s theory which suggested that the Vijaya gneisses are basement rock of the
Khondalight found in the central hills. He further suggested that the gneisses found in Sri
Lankan basement were not uniform and preferred to classify them as heterogeneous basement
were not components.
OVERVIEW OF SRI LANKAN GEOLOGY
Sri Lankan geology has received increasing attention in the last two decades. The early and
late 1980’s geological works done by Japanese and German research group led by Prof. M
Yashida & Prof . A. Kroner respectively shew new units, on the Sri Lankan Geology. As a
result of this nomenclature of the rock units, as described in the special issue of the Journal of
Precambrian Research on emphasis on Sri Lanka, is now used as the latest account on the
Geology of Sri Lanka
Geological trail of Sri Lanka has been extended to until Archean eon (4000 Mya–2500
Mya). Between the latest Proterozoic and the early Mesozoic, Sri Lanka occupied an internal
position within Gondwana Sri Lanka’s geological evolution during this period is poorly
constrained since –unlike the juxtaposed fragments of India, East Africa, Madagascar and East
Antarctica where break-up related extension caused intense brittle deformation – only sparse
tectonic and/or igneous processes were detected so far. The dispersal of Gondwana started
during the Permo-Carboniferous with the opening of intracontinental rift basins and extension
culminated during Jurassic – Cretaceous times. Seafloor anomalies within the Mozambique
Basin ( 158 Ma) and south of Sri Lanka (134 Ma) document oceanic crust formation during the
separation of the Madagascar/India/Sri Lanka block, East Africa and East Antarctica.
Following the initial opening of the proto Indian Ocean, the India/Sri Lanka/Seychelles block
sheared off Madagascar and started to move northward, as recorded by late Cretaceous to
middle Eocene episodes of seafloor spreading and late Cretaceous volcanism. At _65 Ma the
India/ Sri Lanka/Seychelles block finally broke apart when India and Sri Lanka were rifted
away from the Seychelles along the Carlsberg. The collision of India and Eurasia since _50 Ma
finished the extensional phase, seafloor spreading decelerated, and Sri Lanka reached its
present isolated position. In eastern Sri Lanka the first signs of Mesozoic tectonic and igneous
activity is dated between _143Ma and 170 Ma by K-Ar whole rock and Ar/Ar biotite ages from
doleritic dykes. However, scattered occurrences of sedimentary rocks belonging to the Jurassic,
Miocene and Quaternary ages can also be observed within the basement complex. From among
sedimentary sequences in the island, Jurassic rocks are confined to isolated faulted basins in
the Tabbowa, Andigama, and Pallama in the north-western region. The Tabbowa rocks mainly
consist of well-bedded feldspathic sandstones, arkoses, siltstones and mudstones. The
Andigama and Pallama beds mainly consist of brown shales and black carbonaceous shales
with streaks of coal.
G E O L O G I C A L S E T T I N G
The supercontinent Rodinia was formed 900 million years ago and started to break apart about 150 million years
later. Some of its fragments reassembled to form Gondwanaland, which later became part of the supercontinent
Pangaea. South America, Africa, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Antarctica, and Australia were once connected in
Gondwanaland. Adapted from Li et al. (2008) and Dissanayake and Chandrajith (1999)
The Basement Geology of Sri Lanka
The basement complex of Sri Lanka is composed mainly of high-grade metamorphic rocks of
the Proterozoic age, consisting of a variety of ortho- and para-gneisses formed under
amphibolite to granulite facies conditions. Based on the lithology, mineralogy, major and minor
structures, field relationships and the crust formation ages, this basement complex (Cooray,
1994) is dominated by three distinct striking tectonic provinces called the Highland, Wanni
and Vijayan complexes and the central circuit Kadugannava complex. Highland Complex is
the largest unit and forms the backbone of the Precambrian rocks. It consists of a
Paleoproterozoic supracrustal assemblage and granitoid rocks that underwent granulite grade
metamorphism and charnockitization during late Neoproterozoic/early Cambrian orogeny
(540–550 Ma). The Wanni Complex NW of the Highland Complex comprises a suite of
gneisses and granites, along with a variety of amphibolite to granulite facies rocks with a
highland-type late Neoproterozoic–Cambrian tectonic history. The Kadugannava Complex in
the center of the island is dominated by hornblende bearing gneisses whereas the Vijayan
Complex in the east mainly consists of amphibolite facies gneisses and meta sediments. The
marked difference in rock types, metamorphic grades, timing of deformation and nature of the
tectonic contact between the Highland/Wanni and the Vijayan complexes suggest that they
were juxtaposed during final assembly of Gondwana.
Geological map of Sri Lanka
The Highland Complex(HC), a n association of interlayered, predominantly
granulite- facies, granitoid gneisses ( metamorphosed igneous rock – orthogneisses )
and clastic to calcareous shallow – water metasedimentary (metamorphosed
sedimentary rock – para-gneisses) .The gneisses were ubiquitously intruded by mafic
dykes that are now structurally concordant(layered parallel to gneissic) with their host
rocks. The HC consist mainly of interbedded meta – perlites, quartzite, marble,
metabasites and charnockites. Calc- silicate gneisses, sapphirine –bearing gr anulites,
cordierite –bearing gneisses and corundum bearing gneisses are exposed in minor
quantities. Some granulite are exposed in the southern part of VC near Buttala and
Katharagama. They comprise rocks similar to those of HC and are interpreted as
tectonic nappes namely:Buttala klippe, Katharagama klippe, Kuda oya klippe.
The Wanni Complex (WC), an upper amphibolite to granulite- facies
assemblage of 770- 1100 Ma granitoid, grabbroic, charnockitic and enderbitic
gneisses, migmatites, minor clastic meat sediments, including garnet- cordierite
gneisses, as well as late to post – tectonic granites. The Characteristic feature of rock
in Wanni Complex is the absence of thick marble and quartzite bands, which is the
dominant feature in HC. The Vijayan Complex(VC) , an upper amphibolites- facies
suite of 1000 -1030 Ma calc – alkaline granitoid gneisses, including augen- gneisses,
with minor amphibolites layers (derived from mafic dykes) and sedimentary xenoliths
such as metaquartzite and calc – silicate rock. The Kadugannawa Complex (KC),
rock of the Kadugannawa complex are seen in the cores of the six doubly plunging
synforms, which were name as Arenas by Vithange (1972). The dominant rocks of
the KC are hornblende –biotite gneisses, granitic, grandioritic and tonalitic
association, which are identical, rock types of the WC as well. In some recent
publications, Kadugannawa complex is included in the WC because of this similarity.
The rock from VC,WC, and KC, which are predominantly of orthogneisses, yield
relatively younger deposition ages at 1.1 Ma ago. This implies that igneous activity
had occurred after the deposition of rock of HC .
Igneous Rock of Sri Lanka.
Rocks with igneous origin are very rarely exploded in the Sri Lanka crust. The series of
serpentinites (ultramafic igneous rock) are reported in many places especially along the
HC/VC boundary in Ussangoda & Ginigalpelessa. Ussangoda has one of largest serpentine
outcrops of the five known occurrences in the HC/VC geological boundary(three of those
serpentinites area of Sri Lanka are Ginigalpelessa & Indikolapelessa both close to
Udawalawa and Ussangoda near Nonagama junction). This tectonic boundary stretches
from the SE coast curving in NE direction to the coast in Trincomalee. It is suggested that
the HC plate had been over – thrusted over VC during the Pan- Africa event (The event
called the collision of East and West Gondwana). This model explains that during or after
the period of over thrusting, the serpentinite rich ultramafic magma was intruded to the
crust and believes to be formed green colored serpentinites rock including Ussangoda,
Serpentinites. It seems that from the Cambrian to the early Permian, Sri Lankan
Precambrian crust underwater magmatic activities, after the peak event occurring in the
late Jurassic to early cretaceous, forming the series of ultramafic rock along the HC/VC
boundary. The carbonate – rich rock from carbonatite magma occurs as several low hills
at Eppawala. This deposit is now popularly know as “Eppawala Apatite Deposit” . Several
Dolerite dikes of igneous origin are present on the eastern side of the island, intrusive into
the best know being Galllodai dike near welikanda. The pure intrusive granites are
reported to be found in many places including Tonigala, Ambagaspitiya and Arangala, but
later confirmed that they have been metamorphosed too some extent in the recent times.
Sedimentary Deposits in Sri Lanka
Jurassic Deposits: After the Permian age, there is no evidence for any kind of deposition in
Sri Lankan crust, perhaps the agitated environment during that period may prevent any thick
deposition, Collision of plates or continuous subduction or obduction of lithospheric plates
may prevent such deposition. In Sri Lanka such deltaic deposits are found as three small basin.
This is the next immediate deposition reported after resting the Precambrian crust in the calm
environment. Sediments were deposited in the early Jurassic period forming the siltstone,
mudstone and arkosic sandstone now exposed on the Thabbowa, Andigama and Pallama, The
beds are faulted into the Wanni complex basement rocks as horst and graben structure.
Miocene Deposits in Sri Lanka : After the Jurassic rocks formed. Little has happened
geologically to the Sri Lankan crust unit about 20 Ma. The northern and north –western
part were submerged under the sea during the detachment of the Indian Peninsula with Sri
Lankan crust in the Miocene epoch. A thick series of sediment, mostly the a fossiliferous
limestone was then deposited, which we now know see underlying the whole of the Jaffna
peninsula and surrounding island and the north western coastal belt extending southwards
to beyond puttalm. This is popularly known as Wanathawilluwa limestone, and it is almost
flat bedded in highly fossiliferous with gastropods, and foraminifera. A small deposit of
miocenc rock is present at Minihagalkanda on the coast. The Miocene rocks rest
unconformably on the eroded basement of the crystalline complex. These rocks exhibit a
range of sedimentary structures, produced by soft sediment deformation. They from minor
features, such as the hills at Arukakkalu and Kudriramalai. Outcrops of limestone are also
well exposed in the Parappukkadantan and Adampan area on the mainland near Mannar
island. Sediment similar to Tabbowa, Adigama, Pallama beds were recently found to be
present in the drill cores in the mannar area, lying below 10 meters of Miocene beds. It is
still possible that these types of deposits of Jurassic age may exist in the faulted basins
within the crystalline basement, hidden by latter deposits of Miocene and Quaternary age.
Quaternary Deposits: Formation of laterite belongs to Pleistocene epoch . The laterite is
a mottled deep red, yellow, or reddish brown ferruginous earth showing vesicular
structure, the vesicles (cavities within the rock) are often lined by paler material. It is
extensively developed in Colombo district and long the southwest coast, extending down
to Mathara & Thangalla. The laterite is clearly the alteration product of underlying
crystalline rocks due to fluctuation of water table which dissolve silicate minerals while
keeping iron- bearing minerals in the lateritic profile. Fluctuation of water table is high in
the wet zone of Sri Lanka and hence laterites are mostly observed in the wet zone. The
typical laterite profile shows the transition from partly decomposed granites or gneisses
through an intermediate zone of kaolin and angular quartz to the typical cellular laterites
of high porosity and permeability, usually capped by loose layer of small ferruginous
Panthera tigris or Panthera leo sinhaleyus (Fossil No PSLSA02) – Canine tooth in right lower
mandible. Location- Galukagama MahaEla, Puwakattaovita (Gem Pit) Kuruwita, Sri Lanka ©
Aravinda & Kamal et al 2015
B A S I C S O F S R I L A N K A G E O L O G Y [ SINHALA]
(Archean Eon-4000 Mya–2500 Mya) .
(Neoproterozoic–1000 Mya–541 Mya)
processes) (Spares tectonic)
. (East Gondwana -
550 Mya 180 Mya) ()
(Basement rock data)
(Crystallization data), (Isotopic analysis [A]),
(Geochronological analysis [B]), (Geochemical
analysis [C])" (Petrological analysis [D])
(Thermochronology analysis [E])
(HC-3000 Mya – 2200 Mya)" (WC-2000Mya - 1000Mya)"
(VC-2000 Mya – 1000 Mya)" (VC-2000 Mya – 1000
(Jurassic-201Mya-145 Mya), (Miocene-23.05
Mya-5.3 Mya) (Pleistocene-2.58 Mya - 0.012 Mya)
Formation)=, (Iranamadu Deposits)= /
(Wetland caves/Open habitats) , A,B,C,D,E
(Multi-proxy climate data in palaeo) (
, ). (Harbor Life )
(Celestial Sphere) (Earth Precision)
There are five major complexes in Sri Lanka (Cooray 1994). Highland complex, The
Vijayan Complex, The Wanni Complex, The Kadugannawa Complex, Limestone
complex. The rock units found in Sri Lanka crust are described here in the chronological
order with their probable origin during the breakup of the Gondwana. More than 90 percent
of rock found in the Sri Lanka rocks are belongs to crystalline metamorphic rock with
Precambrian age. Since then some deposition were recorded according to the geological
timescale with some unconformities.
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