Evacuation of multiple magma bodies and the onset of caldera collapse in a supereruption, captured in glass and mineral compositions

  • Elliot J. Swallow
  • Colin J. N. Wilson
  • Madison L. Myers
  • Paul J. Wallace
  • Katie S. Collins
  • Euan G. C. Smith
Original Paper


Complexities in the nature of large-scale silicic eruptions and their magmatic systems can be discerned through micro-analytical geochemical studies. We present high-resolution, stratigraphically constrained compositional data on glassy matrix material and feldspar crystals from the initial fall deposits and earliest ignimbrite (base of member A) of the 2.08 Ma, ~ 2500 km3 Huckleberry Ridge Tuff (HRT), Yellowstone. We use these data to document the nature of the magmatic system and compositional changes related to the transition from fall to widespread ignimbrite deposition, inferred to mark the onset of caldera collapse. Although major element glass compositions are relatively uniform, trace elements span a large range (e.g. Ba 10–900 ppm, Sr/Rb = 0.005–0.09), with highly evolved glasses dominating in the fall deposits. Several trace elements (e.g. Ba and light rare earth elements) in the glass samples serve to define statistically significant compositional clustering in the fall deposits and basal ignimbrite. These clusters are inferred to reflect melt compositions controlled by fractional crystallisation processes and are interpreted to represent multiple, discrete melt-dominant domains that were tapped by multiple vents. The onset of widespread ignimbrite deposition is marked by an increase in the number of erupted melt compositional clusters from four in the fall deposits to eight, representing nine melt-dominant domains. There is an absence of geographical variation of glass compositions within the basal ignimbrite, with samples from proximal to distal localities north, west and south of the HRT caldera exhibiting similar variability. Pairing of glass analyses with sanidine major and minor element compositional data suggests that the nine melt compositional domains converged at depth into two compositionally distinct upper-crustal magmatic lineages that were both active during these early stages of the eruption. Our data collectively indicate the evacuation of an exceptionally complex and heterogeneous magma system. The onset of widespread ignimbrite deposition, inferred to relate to caldera collapse, occurred after ~ 50 km3 of magma had been discharged. Although external controls were important as an eruption trigger, depressurisation of the system led to caldera collapse with the eruption of numerous discrete melt-dominant domains.


Huckleberry Ridge Tuff Yellowstone Supereruption Caldera collapse Glass compositions Multiple magma bodies 



Swallow was supported by a Commonwealth Scholarship administered by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. Wilson thanks the Yellowstone (YELL-05248) and Grand Teton (GRTE-00604) research offices for permission to work in the respective national parks, Bob Christiansen for his introduction to the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff, and the Royal Society of New Zealand for a James Cook Fellowship and past support under Marsden Fund Grant VUW0813. Additional financial support was provided by National Science Foundation Grant EAR-1524824 to Wallace and a VUW Faculty Strategic Research Grant (209484) to Swallow. We thank Adam Kent, Dan Morgan, Ian Schipper and Dan Sinclair for their help with data collection and processing, and acknowledge Shan de Silva, Guil Gualda, John Stix and an anonymous reviewer for their informative comments that helped improve the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3231 KB)
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Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 1357 KB)
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Supplementary material 3 (XLSX 539 KB)
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Supplementary material 4 (XLSX 9 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography, Environment and Earth SciencesVictoria UniversityWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  3. 3.Department of the Geophysical SciencesUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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