Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology

, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 62–74

Systematics of modal phenocryst assemblages in submarine basalts: Petrologic implications


  • W. B. Bryan
    • Department of Geology and GeophysicsWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution

DOI: 10.1007/BF00373080

Cite this article as:
Bryan, W.B. Contr. Mineral. and Petrol. (1983) 83: 62. doi:10.1007/BF00373080


Phenocryst assemblages in ocean-ridge basalts generally show an increasing proportion of plagioclase as the total amount of phenocrysts increases. The variations in phase assemblages, as well as most crystal-liquid Kd's, are similar to variations (equimodal trends) predicted by low-pressure laboratory experiments, suggesting that many of these basalts have experienced varying degrees of low-pressure cyrstallization prior to quenching, with little sorting of crystals and liquid. Important exceptions include moderately to highly phyric basalts enriched either in plagioclase or olivine which lie well off the experimental trends. In these basalts, megacrysts and xenocrysts usually cited as evidence for magma mixing commonly represent a small proportion of the total crystalline phase assemblage. However, phase proportions for many of these basalts lie well outside the range that could be produced by simple mixing; selective gravitative sorting either prior or subsequent to mixing appears to be the likely explanation for these phyric basalts. A relation between spreading rate and phase proportions is neither supported nor refuted by the data, which as yet do not adequately represent fast-spreading ridges.

Pyroxene-phyric varieties are especially common among LIL-element enriched (Group 2) basalts, and these basalts also show the greatest abundance of olivine-enriched (picritic) samples. Selective enrichment in plagioclase is more common among LIL-element depleted (Group 1) basalts, and pyroxene appears in Group 1 basalts only at relatively high degrees of crystallinity. These differences are consistent with expected compositional effects (including volatiles) on phase boundaries, as well as likely differences in depth (pressure) of mantle melting and magma fractionation.

Sparsely to moderately phyric basalts tend to contain only olivine (±spinel) as phenocrysts, and lie in the olivine field in the projection from plagioclase in the CMAS tetrahedron. This is consistent with the concept that these magmas approach low-pressure equilibrium by olivine fractionation from a more picritic parent. The origin of these basalts, and relationships between them, remains an important fundamental problem.

Phenocryst phase assemblages are consistent with the low-pressure phase saturation indicated by the projected positions of the associated glasses in CMAS. It is suggested that, in contrast to the classical practice of classifying basalts according to phase proportions, a classification based on presence and/or first appearance of each crystalline phase is both practical and petrogenetically significant for water-quenched submarine basalts.

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© Springer-Verlag 1983