Incremental assembly and prolonged consolidation of Cordilleran magma chambers--Evidence from the Southern Rocky Mountain volcanic field




Recent inference that Mesozoic Cordilleran plutons grew incrementally during >106 yr intervals, without the presence of voluminous eruptible magma at any stage, minimizes close associations with large ignimbrite calderas. Alternatively, Tertiary ignimbrites in the Rocky Mountains and elsewhere, with volumes of 1–5 × 103 km3, record multistage histories of magma accumulation, fractionation, and solidification in upper parts of large subvolcanic plutons that were sufficiently liquid to erupt. Individual calderas, up to 75 km across with 2–5 km subsidence, are direct evidence for shallow magma bodies comparable to the largest granitic plutons. As exemplified by the composite Southern Rocky Mountain volcanic field (here summarized comprehensively for the first time), which is comparable in areal extent, magma composition, eruptive volume, and duration to continental-margin volcanism of the central Andes, nested calderas that erupted compositionally diverse tuffs document deep composite subsidence and rapid evolution in subvolcanic magma bodies. Spacing of Tertiary calderas at distances of tens to hundreds of kilometers is comparable to Mesozoic Cordilleran pluton spacing. Downwind ash in eastern Cordilleran sediments records large-scale explosive volcanism concurrent with Mesozoic batholith growth. Mineral fabrics and gradients indicate unified flow-age of many pluton interiors before complete solidification, and some plutons contain ring dikes or other textural evidence for roof subsidence. Geophysical data show that low-density upper-crustal rocks, inferred to be plutons, are 10 km or more thick beneath many calderas. Most ignimbrites are more evolved than associated plutons; evidence that the subcaldera chambers retained voluminous residua from fractionation. Initial incremental pluton growth in the upper crust was likely recorded by modest eruptions from central volcanoes; preparation for caldera-scale ignimbrite eruption involved recurrent magma input and homogenization high in the chamber. Some eroded calderas expose shallow granites of similar age and composition to tuffs, recording sustained postcaldera magmatism.

Plutons thus provide an integrated record of prolonged magmatic evolution, while volcanism offers snapshots of conditions at early stages. Growth of subvolcanic batholiths involved sustained multistage open-system processes. These commonly involved ignimbrite eruptions at times of peak power input, but assembly and consolidation processes continued at diminishing rates long after peak volcanism. Some evidence cited for early incremental pluton assembly more likely records late events during or after volcanism. Contrasts between relatively primitive arc systems dominated by andesitic compositions and small upper-crustal plutons versus more silicic volcanic fields and associated batholiths probably reflect intertwined contrasts in crustal thickness and magmatic power input. Lower power input would lead to a Cascade- or Aleutian-type arc system, where intermediate-composition magma erupts directly from middle- and lower-crustal storage without development of large shallow plutons. Andean and southern Rocky Mountain–type systems begin similarly with intermediate-composition volcanism, but increasing magma production, perhaps triggered by abrupt changes in plate boundaries, leads to development of larger upper-crustal reservoirs, more silicic compositions, large ignimbrites, and batholiths. Lack of geophysical evidence for voluminous eruptible magma beneath young calderas suggests that near-solidus plutons can be rejuvenated rapidly by high-temperature mafic recharge, potentially causing large explosive eruptions with only brief precursors.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Incremental assembly and prolonged consolidation of Cordilleran magma chambers--Evidence from the Southern Rocky Mountain volcanic field
Series title Geosphere
DOI 10.1130/GES00061.1
Volume 3
Issue 1
Year Published 2007
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Publisher location Boulder, Colorado
Contributing office(s) Volcano Hazards Program
Description 29 p.
First page 42
Last page 70
Country United States
Other Geospatial Southern Rocky Mountains
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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