Comprised of 13 states, and separated by the South China Sea into two regions, Malaysia is known for beaches, serendipity and the magic and mystery of Borneo.
One more thing, too, even if it isn’t always featured in the travel brochures.
Let AAPG member Bill Lodwick, a geologic consultant in Kuala Lumpur with more than 30 years of oil exploration behind him, tell you:
“West Malaysia is a paradise for geologists.”
And he’d like to prove it – so, along with Lee Chai Peng, retired professor at the University of Malaysia and past president of the Geological Society of Malaysia, they will lead what he calls a “little expedition” in September around some of this geographic treasure trove as part of this year’s AAPG International Conference and Exhibition in Singapore.
The pre-conference field trip, sponsored by the South East Asia Petroleum Exploration Society (SEAPEX), will tour Malaysia’s Langkawi Geopark, which in 2007 was named a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Network of National Geoparks.
“Within it,” Lodwick says of the island and the hands-on study of 90 geosites around the group of 99 islands, “are some of the best and most interesting exposures of Palaeozoic rocks in Malaysia, which range in age from the Cambrian to Permian.”
And since, as mentioned, Malaysia is where you’ll find Borneo (which is divided among three countries: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia), you’ll also find thousands of tourists drawn to island’s spectacular karst, beautiful beaches and warm, welcoming local population.
This trip, then, complete with cable car ride and a Mangrove Swamp Tour, will give geoscientists and the others attending the Singapore ICE an opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.
The Geologic Setting
The breathtaking charm, beauty and vistas of the Langkawi Geopark, in fact, were considered such a natIonal treasure that it was established by the Kedah state government in May 2006, to preserve and display its unique features.
By the following June the Geopark was endorsed by UNESCO – and its World Heritage Site (WTS) designation means this oldest part of Malaysia is now on the geological radar.
“Once it gains geopark status, it will make the city well known to the world,” said then-deputy minister of tourism James Dawos Mamit.
“The most interesting and accessible sites,” Lodwick said, “are located on or near the main island,” and this includes the most complete Paleozoic sequence in this region.
Additionally, it’s home to the Cambro-Ordovician shallow marine clastic Machinchang Formation, fossiliferous limestones of the Ordovician-Silurian Setul Formation, Gondwana-derived, glacial-marine pebbly mudstones of the Carboniferous-Permian Singa Formation and Permian Chuping Limestone.
Those on the field trip will see this Setul limestone by boat, as it cruises along the channels running through the mangroves, as well as take a cable car to 700 meters (2,300 feet) above sea level, to the top of the Cambrian Machinchang Hills. Once there, visitors will see the sheer cliffs of faulted quartzitic sandstones rising above the tops of the pristine tropical forest.
A spectacular curved sky bridge, 125 meters (410 feet), is suspended by cables from a single supporting leg – and from it, the cliffs can be viewed from different angles.
Only a short walk below the cable car station, the shallow marine sandstone outcrops can be examined up close.
Participants, to put this mildly, will be looking down (and up) at history.
“Current theory proposes that the collision of India with Tibet about 50 million years ago created the Himalayas,” Lodwick said, “and caused the many slivers of southeast Asia, including Peninsular Malaysia, to alter their structural configuration. It is an integral part of Sundaland, the Southeast Asian part of the Eurasian plate.
“The sedimentary formations contain both clastics and carbonates,” he added, “which were deposited within differing palaeo-environments and under different palaeo-climatic conditions.”
Lodwick says such a canvas provides a wide variety of rock types that will challenge the minds of geologists.
“In addition, these sedimentary rocks have been intruded by younger granites that have formed interesting metamorphic imprints at their contacts,” he said. “The entire sequence also has undergone at least two phases of tectonic deformation, resulting in interesting geological structures.”
And of the practical implications for those looking for exploration possibilities, Lodwick says that while no commercial oil or gas deposits have been found on the Malaysian side of the Straits of Malacca, the thicker and more deeply buried extensions of the Tertiary sediments into Sumatra across the Indonesian border are home to many commercial oil and gas fields.
The history, the possibilities and the raw beauty of Malaysia – something to ponder on this “little expedition” while cruising through the mangroves, watching sea eagles dive for fish, tourists lying on the beach and geologists discovering a new paradise.