Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 70, Issue 3, pp 315–342 | Cite as

Miocene silicic volcanism in southwestern Idaho: geochronology, geochemistry, and evolution of the central Snake River Plain

  • Bill Bonnichsen
  • William P. Leeman
  • Norio Honjo
  • William C. McIntosh
  • Martha M. Godchaux
Research Article


New 40Ar-39Ar geochronology, bulk rock geochemical data, and physical characteristics for representative stratigraphic sections of rhyolite ignimbrites and lavas from the west-central Snake River Plain (SRP) are combined to develop a coherent stratigraphic framework for Miocene silicic magmatism in this part of the Yellowstone ‘hotspot track’. The magmatic record differs from that in areas to the west and east with regard to its unusually large extrusive volume, broad lateral scale, and extended duration. We infer that the magmatic systems developed in response to large-scale and repeated injections of basaltic magma into the crust, resulting in significant reconstitution of large volumes of the crust, wide distribution of crustal melt zones, and complex feeder systems for individual eruptive events. Some eruptive episodes or ‘events’ appear to be contemporaneous with major normal faulting, and perhaps catastrophic crustal foundering, that may have triggered concurrent evacuations of separate silicic magma reservoirs. This behavior and cumulative time-composition relations are difficult to relate to simple caldera-style single-source feeder systems and imply complex temporal-spatial development of the silicic magma systems. Inferred volumes and timing of mafic magma inputs, as the driving energy source, require a significant component of lithospheric extension on NNW-trending Basin and Range style faults (i.e., roughly parallel to the SW–NE orientation of the eastern SRP). This is needed to accommodate basaltic inputs at crustal levels, and is likely to play a role in generation of those magmas. Anomalously high magma production in the SRP compared to that in adjacent areas (e.g., northern Basin and Range Province) may require additional sub-lithospheric processes.


Caldera Crustal foundering Ignimbrite flare-up Lava flow Rhyolite Rifting Snake River Plain 40Ar-39Ar dating 



Our efforts leading to this paper benefited from the assistance of many people over some 30 years. The Idaho Geological Survey, Rice University, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, and Mount Holyoke College supported aspects of this research, and the U.S. Geological Survey and the Idaho Department of Water Resources contributed financial and logistical support. Leeman acknowledges grants EAR-8018580 and EAR-8320358 from the National Science Foundation and continued support by the Division of Earth Sciences since joining NSF. We thank M. Rhodes and P. Dawson (University of Massachusetts), D. Cornelius (Washington State University), and G. Fitton (University of Edinburgh) for help with XRF analyses. E. Pestana and M. Dehn (Rice University) assisted with ICP analyses and N. Rogers (Open University) provided neutron activation analyses. Help in the field and many discussions were provided by the ‘Friends of Rhyolite’: J. Bernt, D. Kauffman, M. Jenks, J. Wolff, S. Boroughs, P. Larson, G. Gillerman, M. Branney, T. Barry, G. Andrews, B. Ellis, J. Sumner, M. McCurry, S. Hughes, M. Perkins, D. Clemens, B. Hirt, C. Manley, G. Citron, T. Gregg, A. Semple, C. White, S. Wood, C. Henry, M. Ferns, A. Grunder, M. Cummings, M. Norman, J. Aranda-Gomez, G. Aguirre-Diaz, G. Labarthe, J. McPhie, N. Riggs, R. Smith, R. Christiansen, L. Morgan, and W. Hackett. Finally, we are indebted to Henny Cathey, Martin Streck, Derek Schutt, Barbara Nash, and Lina Patino whose reviews and comments helped us improve this paper. Of course, we take responsibility for any errors in interpretation and hope that, as research continues on SRP rhyolites, our ideas will be modified for the better.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bill Bonnichsen
    • 1
  • William P. Leeman
    • 2
  • Norio Honjo
    • 3
  • William C. McIntosh
    • 4
  • Martha M. Godchaux
    • 5
  1. 1.Idaho Geological SurveyMoscowUSA
  2. 2.National Science FoundationArlingtonUSA
  3. 3.Rice UniversityHoustonUSA
  4. 4.New Mexico Inst. of Mining and TechnologySocorroUSA
  5. 5.Mount Holyoke CollegeMoscowUSA

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