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Precaldera mafic magmatism at Long Valley, California: Magma-tectonic siting and incubation of the Great Rhyolite System

December 12, 2022

The iconic volcanic center at Long Valley has released ∼820 km3 of rhyolite in at least 110 eruptions. From 2.2 Ma until 0.23 Ma, products were exclusively rhyolitic, and ∼ 700 km3 were high-silica rhyolite severely depleted in Sr, Ba, and Eu. The rhyolitic interval was preceded by an interval from 3.9 to 2.6 Ma with numerous basalt-andesite-dacite eruptions accompanied by no rhyolite at all. We have now mapped the circumcaldera products of this interval, defined 107 eruptive units, characterized them all chemically and petrographically, and dated many by 40Ar/39Ar. Here we display and describe them by sector around the caldera, interpret the nature of the transcrustal magma system that eventuated in the 35-km-wide Long Valley granite-rhyolite pluton, and analyze regional tectonic factors that did or did not contribute to siting the system.

Nine Miocene (12–6 Ma) eruptive units close to Long Valley were followed by a Pliocene flare-up that released >300 mafic eruptions in a SW–NE swath 170 km long, centered across the later site of Long Valley. The basalts and their fractionates are intraplate alkalic products dominated by a continental lithosphere that had long been fluxed by Mesozoic subduction. Tertiary arc volcanism had not impinged on the area of Long Valley. Volumes estimated for the 107 Neogene precaldera eruptive units (only 40 of which exceeded 0.1 km3) total ∼ 27 km3 ± 50%—only ∼3% of the subsequent volume of rhyolite erupted. Such a volume of high-silica rhyolite with ultra-low Sr and Eu is not a product of partial melting but requires as proximate parent a leucogranitic crystal mush that is itself the upper level of a long-lived plutonic reservoir that extends to the lower crust. The 27 km3 of Neogene magma that erupted was a small contingent of the mantle-derived basaltic flux needed to energize (and contribute its fractionated melt to) a 30-km-deep compositionally graded crustal column, which culminated in ∼10,000 km3 of granitoid mush from which 820 km3 of Quaternary high-silica rhyolitic melt escaped and erupted.

Pliocene basaltic eruptions ceased at ∼2.6 Ma, probably because the basaltic flux intensified sufficiently to render the mushy upper crust impenetrable. The 2.6–2.2 Ma quiescent interval represented culmination of thermal activation of the plutonic column and refinement of its leucogranitic mushy upper layer, from which extreme melts escaped for the next 2 Myr. The Pliocene mafic swath crosses the Sierran rangefront fault zone coincident with a left-stepping extensional reentrant that also began developing at ∼3 Ma. Moreover, Long Valley overlies a dextral offset in the initial Sr-isotope 0.706 line, which may reflect the rifted or attenuated edge of Proterozoic crust and mantle lithosphere. Concatenation of these three influences may account for siting of intensified edge-focused magmatism that produced the great Quaternary pluton.

Publication Year 2023
Title Precaldera mafic magmatism at Long Valley, California: Magma-tectonic siting and incubation of the Great Rhyolite System
DOI 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2022.107726
Authors Edward Hildreth, Judith E. Fierstein, Andrew T. Calvert
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Index ID 70240788
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center