Chronology of late Pleistocene and Holocene volcanics, Long Valley and Mono Basin geothermal areas, eastern California

Open-File Report 83-747




Hydration-rind ages based on hydration-rind thicknesses of obsidian and an assumed hydration rate of 5 microns /1000 yrs have been determined for the 26 exposed Mono domes and coulees. Hydration-rind thickness data give good estimates of relative age differences between the domes, but determination of absolute ages will depend upon calibration to radiometric ages. The first extrusion of highly differentiated, sparsely porphyritic rhyolite occurred an estimated 32,000 to 40,000 yrs ago and consists of a small dome at the northwest end of the contiguous chain. The next major extrusive event occurred about 24,000 yrs ago and is represented by two domes and a major tephra. About 10,000 yrs ago the frequency of eruptive activity increases and rhyolite lave was extruded at an average rate of 0.2 km3/1000 yrs; periods of dormancy ranging in length from 300 to 2000 yrs. About 2000 to 3000 yrs ago the rate of extrusion increased dramatically to 0.8 km3/1000 yrs beginning with the eruption of the South Coulee and its associated tephra. At the same time, the nature of erupted magma changed from sparsely porphyritic (3 to 10 per cent sanidine) to aphyric rhyolite. All eruptions since 2000 radiocarbon yrs BP have produced magma that is aphyric but is of the same chemical composition as the earlier porphyritic magma. Volumes of porphyritic and aphyric extrusives, each of which includes volumes of lava and volumes of pumiceous pyroclastics reduced for porosity, are nearly equal and together total about 4 km3. Projecting the recent rate of extrusion over the time since the last major eruption, 1185 radiocarbon yrs ago suggests that a future eruption in the Mono Chain could release as much as 1 km 3 of magma. The recent increase in extrusion rate and the contemporaneous change in the nature of the magma are attributed to an event in the magma chamber that allowed the release of hotter, more fluid, crystal-free magma. The young age for the beginning of rhyolite volcanism from the mono magma chamber suggests that rhyolite magma may have been emplaced in the shallow crust as recently as 32,000 to 40,000 yrs ago. Calculations by Lachenbruch et al. (1976, Jour. Geophys. Research, v. 81, p. 769-784) that a thermal disturbance at this age would have propagated upward by solid conduction only 4 km and offer an explanation for the lack of a heat-flow anomaly and surface indications of hydrothermal activity over the Mono magma chamber and its associated ring-fracture system. This report also contains new information on the age and chemistry of volcanics on the Mono Lake island, the Inyo domes, and tephras within the Long Valley Caldera. A newly discovered rhyolite tuff ring of late Quaternary age in the Toowa volcanic field of the southern Sierra Nevada is briefly described for it represents a new area that should be examined for potential as a geothermal area.

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Chronology of late Pleistocene and Holocene volcanics, Long Valley and Mono Basin geothermal areas, eastern California
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey,
vii, 84 p. :ill., maps (1 col.) ;29 cm.