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Time scales and volumes of large ignimbrite-caldera eruptions in continental arc: Relation to assembly of subvolcanic batholiths

October 10, 2007

Volcanoes and upper-crustal plutons in diverse geologic settings tend to share common features of mineral and chemical compositions, emplacement age, and magmatic volume. Voluminous silicic ignimbrites associated with caldera sources, widespread components of Cordilleran arcs, have commonly been interpreted as broadly concurrent with assembly of upper-crustal batholiths. Tertiary ignimbrites in the westerns USA and elsewhere, with volumes to 1-5x103km3, record multi-stage histories of magma accumulation, fractionation, and solidification in upper parts of large subvolcanic plutons that were sufficiently liquid to erupt. Indiviudal calderas, to 75 km across with 2-5 km subsidence, are direct evidence for shallow magma bodies comparable to the largest granitic plutons. Nested polycyclic calderas that erupted compositionally diverse tuffs, some with reposed intervals of 100 ka or less, document deep composite subsidence and rapid evolution in subvolcanic magmas. Most ignimbrite compositions are more evolved than associated plutons, requiring that subcaldera chambers retained voluminous residua from fractionation. Geophysical data that shows that low-density upper-crustal rocks, inferred to be plutons, are 10km or more thick beneath many calderas. 

Alternatively, some recent field and geochronologic studies have been interpreted as indicating that individual Mesozoic Cordilleran plutons grew and solidified incrementally in small batches during > 106- year intervals, without presence of voluminous eruptible magma ("large tank") at any stage during pluton growth and batholith assembly. Such growth in plutons in small increments would minimize close associations with large ignimbrite calderas and suggest that batholith growth is largely unrelated to surface volcanism. Linked to these interpretations are inferences that ignimbrite eruptions record ephemeral magma chambers that (1) grow rapidly due to exceptionally high magmatic power input to the upper crust, (2) evacuate nearly completely during ignimbrite eruption, and (3) leave little geologic record in the form of crystallized crustal plutons. 

How to reconcile these alternatives? Many large continental arcs record a broadly unified time-space-composition evolution of upper-crustal magmatic systems. Such volcanic fields especially those containing ignimbrite-caldera episodes, commonly contain compositionally diverse eruptive products erupted over multimillion-year intervals. A common pattern is initial eruptions of intermediate-composition lavas from central volcanoes, followed by eruption of one or more large-volume ignimbrites of more silicic composition; concurrent caldera subsidence is located centrally within the are of prior lava vents. Such progressions of surface volcanism can be interpreted as providing instantaneous sequential snapshots of changing magma-chamber process through time. In contrast, subvolcanic plutons exposed in eroded volcanic terranes represent time-integrated and partly homogenized end products, as successive magmatic pulses accumulated, fractionated, and consolidated in the upper crust. Such perspectives combine evidence for prolonged growth and incremental pluton assembly with presence of large-volume eruptible chambers during peak magmatic input.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2007
Title Time scales and volumes of large ignimbrite-caldera eruptions in continental arc: Relation to assembly of subvolcanic batholiths
Authors Peter W. Lipman
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70205902
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center