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‘Snake River (SR)-type’ volcanism at the Yellowstone hotspot track: distinctive products from unusual, high-temperature silicic super-eruptions

Abstract

A new category of large-scale volcanism, here termed Snake River (SR)-type volcanism, is defined with reference to a distinctive volcanic facies association displayed by Miocene rocks in the central Snake River Plain area of southern Idaho and northern Nevada, USA. The facies association contrasts with those typical of silicic volcanism elsewhere and records unusual, voluminous and particularly environmentally devastating styles of eruption that remain poorly understood. It includes: (1) large-volume, lithic-poor rhyolitic ignimbrites with scarce pumice lapilli; (2) extensive, parallel-laminated, medium to coarse-grained ashfall deposits with large cuspate shards, crystals and a paucity of pumice lapilli; many are fused to black vitrophyre; (3) unusually extensive, large-volume rhyolite lavas; (4) unusually intense welding, rheomorphism, and widespread development of lava-like facies in the ignimbrites; (5) extensive, fines-rich ash deposits with abundant ash aggregates (pellets and accretionary lapilli); (6) the ashfall layers and ignimbrites contain abundant clasts of dense obsidian and vitrophyre; (7) a bimodal association between the rhyolitic rocks and numerous, coalescing low-profile basalt lava shields; and (8) widespread evidence of emplacement in lacustrine-alluvial environments, as revealed by intercalated lake sediments, ignimbrite peperites, rhyolitic and basaltic hyaloclastites, basalt pillow-lava deltas, rhyolitic and basaltic phreatomagmatic tuffs, alluvial sands and palaeosols. Many rhyolitic eruptions were high mass-flux, large volume and explosive (VEI 6–8), and involved H2O-poor, low-δ18O, metaluminous rhyolite magmas with unusually low viscosities, partly due to high magmatic temperatures (900–1,050°C). SR-type volcanism contrasts with silicic volcanism at many other volcanic fields, where the fall deposits are typically Plinian with pumice lapilli, the ignimbrites are low to medium grade (non-welded to eutaxitic) with abundant pumice lapilli or fiamme, and the rhyolite extrusions are small volume silicic domes and coulées. SR-type volcanism seems to have occurred at numerous times in Earth history, because elements of the facies association occur within some other volcanic fields, including Trans-Pecos Texas, Etendeka-Paraná, Lebombo, the English Lake District, the Proterozoic Keewanawan volcanics of Minnesota and the Yardea Dacite of Australia.

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Acknowledgements

GDMA and BSE acknowledge NERC PhD studentships NER/S/A/2001/06292 and NER/S/A/2004/12340 held at the University of Leicester, UK. Many thanks to Martha Godchaux, Bill Leeman, and Dougal Jerram for discussion in the field and improvements to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to M. J. Branney.

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This paper constitutes part of a special issue dedicated to Bill Bonnichsen on the petrogenesis and volcanology of anorogenic rhyolites.

Editorial responsibility: W Leeman

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Table S1

Characteristic features of Snake River-type volcanism contrasted with features commonly regarded to be typical of silicic volcanicity elsewhere. (DOC 29 KB)

Appendix Fig. 1

Trap topography typical of SR-type volcanism landscape. Cliff-formers are intensely welded rhyolitic ignimbrites; benches are of (largely concealed) layers of rhyolitic ash, volcaniclastic sands and palaeosols. West fork of Jarbidge river, Idaho/Nevada border. (PDF 5 MB)

Appendix Fig. 2

Fallout deposits from SR-type eruptions are dominated by sand-grade ash, yet plot on the typical fallout field of Walker (1971; shaded fields taken from 1,300 fallout deposits); sorting is described in terms of a standard deviation, \( \sigma _{\phi } = {{\left( {\phi _{{84}} - \phi _{{16}} } \right)}} \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{{\left( {\phi _{{84}} - \phi _{{16}} } \right)}} 2}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} 2 \). (PDF 223 KB)

Appendix Fig. 3

SR-type rhyolite lava; the columnar-jointed Dorsey Creek Rhyolite lava, 200 m thick and over >40 km long, traces into the distance at Jarbidge Canyon (trees near river give scale). The lava is capped by a thin basalt lava in the distance. (PDF 736 KB)

Appendix Fig. 4

Lacustrine facies of SR-type volcanism. a Parallel-laminated lacustrine silts overlain by cross-bedded and loaded (top) sands of possible alluvio-lacustrine origin. Volcaniclasts are rhyolitic in composition. Inferred current left to right; scale in cm. Rock Creek Canyon, Cassia Mountains. b Aqueously reworked rhyolitic ash forms a ripple cross-laminated sand, Cassia Mountains, Idaho. c Poorly sorted hydroclastic breccia of angular vitric clasts, formed where the Horse Basin rhyolite lava flowed into Lake Idaho, at the northern margin of the Jacks Creek region, Idaho. d Basalt pillow-lava delta with interstitial hyaloclastite and lake sediment (white). (PDF 20 MB)

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Branney, M.J., Bonnichsen, B., Andrews, G.D.M. et al. ‘Snake River (SR)-type’ volcanism at the Yellowstone hotspot track: distinctive products from unusual, high-temperature silicic super-eruptions. Bull Volcanol 70, 293–314 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-007-0140-7

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Keywords

  • Snake River
  • Yellowstone
  • Intraplate
  • Hot-spot
  • Ignimbrite
  • Welded tuff
  • Rheomorphic
  • Super-eruption