Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 103–190 | Cite as

The genesis of basaltic magmas

  • D. H. Green
  • A. E. Ringwood


This paper reports the results of a detailed experimental investigation of fractionation of natural basaltic compositions under conditions of high pressure and high temperature. A single stage, piston-cylinder apparatus has been used in the pressure range up to 27 kb and at temperatures up to 1500° C to study the melting behaviour of several basaltic compositions. The compositions chosen are olivine-rich (20% or more normative olivine) and include olivine tholeiite (12% normative hypersthene), olivine basalt (1% normative hypersthene) alkali olivine basalt (2% normative nepheline) and picrite (3% normative hypersthene). The liquidus phases of the olivine tholeiite and olivine basalt are olivine at 1 Atmosphere, 4.5 kb and 9 kb, orthopyroxene at 13.5 and 18 kb, clinopyroxene at 22.5 kb and garnet at 27 kb. In the alkali olivine basalt composition, the liquidus phases are olivine at 1 Atmosphere and 9 kb, orthopyroxene with clinopyroxene at 13.5 kb, clinopyroxene at 18 kb and garnet at 27 kb. The sequence of appearance of phases below the liquidus has also been studied in detail. The electron probe micro-analyser has been used to make partial quantitative analyses of olivines, orthopyroxenes, clinopyroxenes and garnets which have crystallized at high pressure.

These experimental and analytical results are used to determine the directions of fractionation of basaltic magmas during crystallization over a wide range of pressures. At pressures corresponding to depths of 35–70 km separation of aluminous enstatite from olivine tholeiite magma produces a direct fractionation trend from olivine tholeiites through olivine basalts to alkali olivine basalts. Co-precipitation of sub-calcic, aluminous clinopyroxene with the orthopyroxene in the more undersaturated compositions of this sequence produces derivative liquids of basanite type. Magmas of alkali olivine basalt and basanite type represent the lower temperature liquids derived by approximately 30% crystallization of olivine-rich tholeiite at 35–70 km depth. At depths of about 30 km, fractionation of olivine-rich tholeiite with separation of both olivine and low-alumina enstatite, joined at lower temperatures by sub-calcic clinopyroxene, leads to derivative liquids with relatively constant SiO2 (48 to 50%) increasingly high Al2O3 (15–17%) contents and retaining olivine + hypersthene normative chemistry (5–15% normative olivine). These have the composition of typical high-alumina olivine tholeiites. The effects of low pressure fractionation may be superimposed on magma compositions derived from various depths within the mantle. These lead to divergence of the alkali olivine basalt and tholeiitic series but convergence of both the low-alumina and high-alumina tholeiites towards quartz tholeiite derivative liquids.

The general problem of derivation of basaltic magmas from a mantle of peridotitic composition is discussed in some detail. Magmas are considered to be a consequence of partial melting but the composition of a magma is determined not by the depth of partial melting but by the depth at which magma segregation from residual crystals occurs. Magma generation from parental peridotite (pyrolite) at depths up to 100 km involves liquid-crystal equilibria between basaltic liquids and olivine + aluminous pyroxenes and does not involve garnet. At 35–70 km depth, basaltic liquids segregating from a pyrolite mantle will be of alkali olivine basalt type with about 20% partial melting but with increasing degrees of partial melting, liquids will change to olivine-rich tholeiite type with about 30% melting. If the depth of magma segregation is about 30 km, then magmas produced by 20–25% partial melting will be of high-alumina olivine tholeiite type, similar to the “oceanic tholeiites” occurring on the sea floor along the mid-oceanic ridges.

Hypotheses of magma fractionation and generation by partial melting are considered in relation to the abundances and ratios of trace elements and in relation to isotopic abundance data on natural basalts. It is shown that there is a group of elements (including K, Ti, P, U, Th, Ba, Rb, Sr, Cs, Zr, Hf and the rare-earth elements) which show enrichment factors in alkali olivine basalts and in some tholeiites, which are inconsistent with simple crystal fractionation relationships between the magma types. This group of elements has been called “incompatible elements” referring to their inability to substitute to any appreciable extent in the major minerals of the upper mantle (olivine, aluminous pyroxenes). Because of the lack of temperature contrast between magma and wall-rock for a body of magma near to its depth of segregation in the mantle, cooling of the magma involves complementary processes of reaction with the wall-rook, including selective melting and extraction of the lowest melting fraction. The “incompatible elements” are probably highly concentrated in the lowest melting fraction of the pyrolite. The production of large overall enrichments in “incompatible elements” in a magma by reaction with and highly selective sampling of large volumes of mantle wall-rock during slow ascent of a magma is considered to be a normal, complementary process to crystal fractionation in the mantle. This process has been called “wall-rock reaction”. Magma generation in the mantle is rarely a simple, closed-system partial melting process and the isotopic abundances and “incompatible element” abundances of a basalt as observed at the earth's surface may be largely determined by the degree of reaction with the mantle or lower crustal wall-rocks and bear little relation to the abundances and ratios of the original parental mantle material (pyrolite).

Occurrences of cognate xenoliths and xenocrysts in basalts are considered in relation to the experimental data on liquid-crystal equilibria at high pressure. It is inferred that the lherzolite nodules largely represent residual material after extraction of alkali olivine basalt from mantle pyrolite or pyrolite which has been selectively depleted in “incompatible elements” by wall-rock reaction processes. Lherzolite nodules included in tholeiitic magmas would melt to a relatively large extent and disintegrate, but would have a largely refractory character if included in alkali olivine basalt magma. Other examples of xenocrystal material in basalts are shown to be probable liquidus crystals or accumulates at high pressure from basaltic magma and provide a useful link between the experimental study and natural processes.


Olivine Partial Melting Incompatible Element Basaltic Magma Olivine Basalt 
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© Springer-Verlag 1967

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. H. Green
    • 1
  • A. E. Ringwood
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geophysics and GeochemistryAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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