Eruption of at least 8800 km3 of dacitic-rhyolitic magma as 9 major ash-slow sheets (individually 150-5000 km3) was accompanied by recurrent caldera subsidence between 28.3 and about 26.5 Ma in the central San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Voluminous andesitic-decitic lavas and breccias were erupted from central volcanoes prior to the ash-flow eruptions, and similar lava eruptions continued within and adjacent to the calderas during the period of explosive volcanism, making the central San Juan caldera cluster an exceptional site for study of caldera-related volcanic processes. Exposed calderas vary in size from 10 to 75 km in maximum diameter, the largest calderas being associated with the most voluminous eruptions. After collapse of the giant La Garita caldera during eruption if the Fish Canyon Tuff at 17.6 Ma, seven additional explosive eruptions and calderas formed inside the La Garita depression within about 1 m.y. Because of the nested geometry, maximum loci of recurrently overlapping collapse events are inferred to have subsided as much as 10-17 km, far deeper than the roof of the composite subvolcanic batholith defined by gravity data, which represents solidified caldera-related magma bodies. Erosional dissection to depths of as much as 1.5 km, although insufficient to reach the subvolcanic batholith, has exposed diverse features of intracaldera ash-flow tuff and interleaved caldera-collapse landslide deposits that accumulated to multikilometer thickness within concurrently subsiding caldera structures. The calderas display a variety of postcollapse resurgent uplift structures, and caldera-forming events produced complex fault geometries that localized late mineralization, including the epithermal base- and precious-metal veins of the well-known Creede mining district. Most of the central San Juan calderas have been deeply eroded, and their identification is dependent on detailed geologic mapping. In contrast, the primary volcanic morphology of the symmetrically resurgent Creede caldera, the volcanic framework for Lake Creede, has been exceptionally preserved because of rapid infilling by moat sediments of the Creede Formation, which were preferentially eroded during the past few million years. The ash-flow tuffs and caldera of the central San Juan region have been widely recognized as exceptional sites for study of explosive volcanic processes, and the results reported here provide new insights into processes of pyroclastic eruption and emplacement, geometric interrelations between caldera subsidence and resurgence, the petrologic diversity of sequential ash-flow eruptions, recurrent eruption of intermediate-composition lavas after each caldera-forming event, associated regional fault development, volume relations between ash-flow eruptions and associated calderas, the emplacement of subvolcanic batholiths, and involvement of mantle-derived mafic phases in magma-generation processes.
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Central San Juan caldera cluster: regional volcanic framework