Field of Science

Charles Darwin in Rio de Janeiro and the Geology Of Sugarloaf Mountain

The Sugarloaf Mountain (aka: Pão de Açúcar) rising almost 400m above Rio de Janeiro is composed of granitoid rock – a plutonic rock formed by the slow cooling from magma and composed mostly of the minerals quartz, feldspar and mica.
Charles Darwin, visiting Rio de Janeiro in 1832, describes in details this rock- This whole district is almost exclusively formed of gneiss, abounding with garnets, and porphyritic with large crystals, even three and four inches in length, of orthoclase feldspar: in these crystals, mica and garnets are often enclosed.
Fig.1. View of Rio de Janeiro with Sugarloaf Mountain as seen from the Corcovado by HMS Beagle artist Augustus Earle. 

Granite shows commonly no preferred orientation of the minerals, however Darwin noted that the granite of Rio de Janeiro seems to be more of a gneiss with a weak developed “stratification and foliation” of minerals, as he continues “The mountains of gneiss-granite are to a remarkable degree abruptly conical, which seems caused by the rock tending to exfoliate in thick, conically concentric layers: ...”
Indeed the Sugarloaf is, as correctly described by Darwin, composed mostly of augen-gneiss, a metamorphic rock with single large, often elongated, crystals, resembling eyes in a finer matrix of smaller crystals, therefore the name as auge means eye in German.

Fig.2. Simplified geological map of the Sugarloaf and surrounding bornhardts, from MIGON 2010.

The Sugorloaf is also evidence for plate tectonics. 560 million years ago, when the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana started slowly to break apart, large magmatic bodies intruded into the weakened crust, feed from below by the Tristan da Cunha hotspot. 

Fig.3. Large Igneous Provinces (LIP) and correlated hotspots. Magmatic rocks of the same type can be found on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, showing that South America and Africa once were one single continent.

Slowly cooling in the upper crust these magmatic bodies formed a large granitic pluton. During the movement of the continents parts of the pluton broke apart, as we find the same type of rock along the coasts of South-America and of Africa, also some metamorphism and deformation of the rocks occurred and the cleavage of the gneiss formed. Later finally the metamorphic pluton was pushed upwards and erosion started to form the modern landscape of Rio with the hard augen-gneiss towering above weaker and more erodible rocks.

1 comment:

  1. Happy to read about Pão de Açúcar in this page! What a a good surprise!!


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