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Primary basalts and magma genesis

II. Snake River Plain, Idaho, U.S.A.

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The Pliocene-Holocene lavas of the Snake River Plain, Idaho, U.S.A., have a bimodal composition range, consisting predominantly of basalts (olivine-tholeiites), with subordinate intercalated tholeiitic andesites but with very few analyses falling between these groups. The more-magnesian of the tholeiitic andesites contain more total Fe, alkalis, TiO2 and P2O5 but less SiO2 than the less-magnesian basalts. Derivation of the tholeiitic andesites from the basalts by low-pressure fractional crystallization or by major-element crustal contamination does not seem possible, although some minor-element exchange with ancient crust apparently has occurred. Two lavas, representative of the least-magnesian basalts and the most-magnesian tholeiitic andesites, respectively, have been subjected to anhydrous experimental studies within their melting ranges at pressures up to 35kb. Both appear to show four-phase points on their liquidi at about 8kb and these are thought to have genetic significance. Microprobe analyses of the interstitial glasses in partially-crystalline runs on the basalt between 8 and 12kb show that these reproduce all the characteristic features of the Snake River Plain most-magnesian tholeiitic andesites, notably their reduced Si-saturation. The compositions of the most Mg-rich Snake River Plain basalts are such that they may perhaps be primary magmas, produced by partial fusion of a relatively Fe-rich spinel-lherzolite upper mantle at 50 to 60km depth; a proposal which accords well with the geophysics of this currently-active region. Partial crystallization of batches of this magma, delayed during ascent within the crust at depths of about 30 km, is thought to have given rise to the tholeiitic andesites.

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Thompson, R.N. Primary basalts and magma genesis. Contr. Mineral. and Petrol. 52, 213–232 (1975).

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  • TiO2
  • Fractional Crystallization
  • Genetic Significance
  • Crustal Contamination
  • Melting Range