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Plate tectonics and magmatic evolution

September 1, 1971
The validity of the general idea of plate tectonics is accepted; the magmas evolved along the spreading ridges are thought to be largely tholeiitic basalt, although alkalic olivine basalt and ultramafic rocks of several kinds have also been dredged from them. The ultramafics may be residual from the partial melting of pyrolite while the tholeiite was being formed at shallower depths, or they may possibly be fragments of the mantle raised by the injection of sills. Bouvet and Jan Mayen Islands, both on the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, are largely composed of alkali basalt with very minor differentiates of trachyte and even rhyolite that may be readily accounted for by differentiation at a high level in the volcanic edifice. Iceland, though, has so much granite and rhyolite widely distributed that it seems likely, as suggested by several students, that its basement is sialic. The volcanic islands tend to be more alkalic the farther they are from the ridges; perhaps they rose from deeper sources in areas of low heat flow and are not related to plate margins.

If the African Rifts are incipient plate margins, it is noteworthy that the magmas associated with them are wholly different from the tholeiites of the oceanic ridges. They are among the most highly alkaline of any rocks known.

The magmatic activity at the subduction zones, where the plates are being destroyed, is very different. There are three varieties of these plate junctions: continental against oceanic, oceanic against oceanic, and continental against continental. In both the junctions involving oceanic crust the material being consumed includes a variable thickness of sediment, underlain by 5 or 6 km of tholeiitic basalt overlying the downgoing mantle. These rocks are much less refractory than the pyrolite of the mantle and must surely compose a large part of material parental to the magmas formed along the subduction zones, the andesites, granodiorites, and granites. There is nowhere the tremendous volume of intermediate rocks that would have had to be formed if these voluminous magmas had been products of crystallization differentiation from a basaltic magma.

The presently most active of the continent-continent junctions is along the Himalayas where India is underthrusting the continent of Asia; here there is no evidence of magmatism except along the transcurrent faults at either end of the main range.

But there are large volcanic and plutonic masses that have no obvious relation to the plate boundaries active in Mesozoic and Cenozoic time. The Eogene volcanics of the San Juans and the Neogene volcanics of the Yellowstone are more than 1,500 km from any obvious subduction zone, and these regions of magmatic activity seem no more closely related to subduction zones than are the Tertiary igneous rocks of West Texas, the Cretaceous tuffs and plutons of Arkansas, the Cretaceous intrusives of the Monteregian Hills, and the minor Tertiary intrusives of Virginia.

Publication Year 1971
Title Plate tectonics and magmatic evolution
DOI 10.1130/0016-7606(1971)82[2383:PTAME]2.0.CO;2
Authors James Gilluly
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of the Geological Society of America
Index ID 70227396
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse