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Slab-rollback ignimbrite flareups in the southern Great Basin and other Cenozoic American arcs: A distinct style of arc volcanism

January 1, 2016

In continental-margin subduction zones, basalt magmas spawned in the mantle interact with the crust to produce a broad spectrum of volcanic arc associations. A distinct style of very voluminous arc volcanism develops far inland on thick crust over periods of 10–20 m.y. and involves relatively infrequent caldera-forming explosive eruptions of dominantly calc-alkaline rhyolite, dacite, and trachydacite with repose times of 104–106 yr. Volumes of individual eruptions are large (102–103 km3), and nested super-eruptions of thousands of cubic kilometers are common. Calderas are as much as 60–75 km in diameter, and surrounding individual ignimbrite outflow sheets extend outward as much as 150 km, blanketing upwards of 105 km2. Little or no basalt is extruded, whereas andesitic differentiates coeval with silicic ignimbrites range from minor to dominant in relative volume. A common feature in these flareups is essentially nonextending, thick, inland crust overlying a subducting oceanic plate with transverse tears that rolled back to a steeper dip from a previously flat configuration. Lithospheric delamination is locally possible. Large volumes of basalt that provide heat and mass for silicic magma generation in the crust form by fluid fluxing of the growing mantle wedge overlying the steepening dehydrating slab and from asthenospheric decompression. Variations in the mantle input, together with variations in crustal thickness, temperature, and composition, modulate the expression of the flareups. As a consequence of the high flux of mantle-derived magma into the thick crust, geotherms become elevated, and the brittle-ductile transition can rise to depths as shallow as 7 km. At this transition, diapirically rising magmas from a melting, assimilation, storage, and homogenization (MASH) zone are blocked and spread laterally into discoid chambers that grow until a thermomechanical threshold is attained, triggering climactic eruption and caldera collapse.

This ignimbrite flareup style of continental arc volcanism is exemplified by the mid-Cenozoic southern Great Basin ignimbrite province; other examples include the contemporaneous Southern Rocky Mountain, Mogollon-Datil, vast Sierra Madre Occidental volcanic fields, and the late Cenozoic Altiplano-Puna volcanic complex in the Central Andes. Rhyolitic and trachydacitic ignimbrites typically have erupted, but where the crust was predominantly felsic, prewarmed, and orogenically thickened, well-developed MASH zones have spawned multiple super-eruptions of phenocryst-rich dacite, or monotonous intermediates, and smaller volumes of calc-alkaline rhyolite ignimbrite. In the Great Basin, eruptions of dry, hot trachydacite magma followed the monotonous intermediates. Partial melting in thinner crust with a major mafic component yielded more alkalic rhyolite and related trachydacite.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2016
Title Slab-rollback ignimbrite flareups in the southern Great Basin and other Cenozoic American arcs: A distinct style of arc volcanism
DOI 10.1130/GES01285.1
Authors Myron G. Best, Eric H. Christiansen, Shanaka de Silva, Peter W. Lipman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geosphere
Index ID 70198530
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center