Multistage histories of incremental accumulation, fractionation, and solidification during construction of large subvolcanic magma bodies that remained sufficiently liquid to erupt are recorded by Tertiary ignimbrites, source calderas, and granitoid intrusions associated with large gravity lows at the Southern Rocky Mountain volcanic field (SRMVF). Geophysical data combined with geological constraints and comparisons with tilted plutons and magmatic-arc sections elsewhere are consistent with the presence of vertically extensive (>20 km) intermediate to silicic batholiths (with intrusive:extrusive ratios of 10:1 or greater) beneath the major SRMVF volcanic loci (Sawatch, San Juan, Questa-Latir). Isotopic data require involvement of voluminous mantle-derived mafic magmas on a scale equal to or greater than that of the intermediate to silicic volcanic and plutonic rocks. Early waxing-stage intrusions (35–30 Ma) that fed intermediate-composition central volcanoes of the San Juan locus are more widespread than the geophysically defined batholith; these likely heated and processed the crust, preparatory for ignimbrite volcanism (32–27 Ma) and large-scale upper-crustal batholith growth. Age and compositional similarities indicate that SRMVF ignimbrites and granitic intrusions are closely related, but the extent to which the plutons record remnants of former magma reservoirs that lost melt to volcanic eruptions has been controversial. Published Ar/Ar-feldspar and U-Pb-zircon ages for plutons spatially associated with ignimbrite calderas document final crystallization of granitoid intrusions at times indistinguishable from the tuff to ages several million years younger. These ages also show that SRMVF caldera-related intrusions cooled and solidified soon after zircon crystallization, as magma supply waned. Some researchers interpret these results as recording pluton assembly in small increments that crystallized rapidly, leading to temporal disconnects between ignimbrite eruption and intrusion growth. Alternatively, crystallization ages of the granitic rocks are here inferred to record late solidification, after protracted open-system evolution involving voluminous mantle input, lengthy residence (105–106yr) as near-solidus crystal mush, and intermittent separation of liquid to supply volcanic eruptions. The compositions of the least-evolved ignimbrite magmas tend to merge with those of caldera-related plutons, suggesting that the plutons record nonerupted parts of long-lived cogenetic magmatic systems, variably modified prior to final solidification. Precambrian-source zircons are scarce in caldera plutons, in contrast to their abundance in some peripheral waning-stage intrusions of the SRMVF, implying dissolution of inherited crustal zircon during lengthy magma assembly for the ignimbrite eruptions and construction of a subvolcanic batholith. Broad age spans of zircons (to several million years) from individual samples of some ignimbrites and intrusions, commonly averaged and interpreted as “intrusion-emplacement age,” alternatively provide an incomplete record of intermittent crystallization during protracted incremental magma-body assembly, with final solidification only when the system began to wane. Analyses of whole zircons cannot resolve late stages of crystal growth, and early growth in a long-lived magmatic system may be poorly recorded due to periods of zircon dissolution. Overall, construction of a batholith can take longer than recorded by zircon-crystallization ages, while the time interval for separation and shallow assembly of eruptible magma may be much shorter. Magma-supply estimates (from ages and volcano-plutonic volumes) yield focused intrusion-assembly rates sufficient to generate ignimbrite-scale volumes of eruptible magma, based on published thermal models. Mid-Tertiary processes of batholith assembly associated with the SRMVF caused drastic chemical and physical reconstruction of the entire lithosphere, probably accompanied by asthenospheric input.
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