The Lovejoy basalt represents the largest eruptive unit identified in California, and its age, volume, and chemistry indicate a genetic affinity with the Columbia River Basalt Group and its associated mantle-plume activity. Recent field mapping, geochemical analyses, and radiometric dating suggest that the Lovejoy basalt erupted during the mid-Miocene from a fissure at Thompson Peak, south of Susanville, California. The Lovejoy flowed through a paleovalley across the northern end of the Sierra Nevada to the Sacramento Valley, a distance of 240 km. Approximately 150 km3 of basalt were erupted over a span of only a few centuries. Our age dates for the Lovejoy basalt cluster are near 15.4 Ma and suggest that it is coeval with the 16.1-15.0 Ma Imnaha and Grande Ronde flows of the Columbia River Basalt Group. Our new mapping and age dating support the interpretation that the Lovejoy basalt erupted in a forearc position relative to the ancestral Cascades arc, in contrast with the Columbia River Basalt Group, which erupted in a backarc position. The arc front shifted trenchward into the Sierran block after 15.4 Ma. However, the Lovejoy basalt appears to be unrelated to volcanism of the predominantly calc-alkaline Cascade arc; instead, the Lovejoy is broadly tholeiitic, with trace-element characteristics similar to the Columbia River Basalt Group. Association of the Lovejoy basalt with mid-Miocene flood basalt volcanism has considerable implications for North American plume dynamics and strengthens the thermal "point source" explanation, as provided by the mantle-plume hypothesis. Alternatives to the plume hypothesis usually call upon lithosphere-scale cracks to control magmatic migrations in the Yellowstone-Columbia River basalt region. However, it is difficult to imagine a lithosphere-scale flaw that crosses Precambrian basement and accreted terranes to reach the Sierra microplate, where the Lovejoy is located. Therefore, we propose that the Lovejoy represents a rapid migration of plume-head material, at ??20 cm/yr to the southwest, a direction not previously recognized. ?? 2008 The Geological Society of America.
Additional Publication Details
A mantle plume beneath California? The mid-Miocene Lovejoy Flood Basalt, northern California
Special Paper of the Geological Society of America