Contrasting perspectives on the Lava Creek Tuff eruption, Yellowstone, from new U–Pb and 40Ar/39Ar age determinations

  • Colin J. N. Wilson
  • Mark E. Stelten
  • Jacob B. Lowenstern
Research Article


The youngest major caldera-forming event at Yellowstone was the ~ 630-ka eruption of the Lava Creek Tuff. The tuff as mapped consists of two major ignimbrite packages (members A and B), linked to widespread coeval fall deposits and formation of the Yellowstone Caldera. Subsequent activity included emplacement of numerous rhyolite flows and domes, and development of two structurally resurgent domes (Mallard Lake and Sour Creek) that accommodate strain due to continual uplift/subsidence cycles. Uplifted lithologies previously mapped on and adjacent to Sour Creek dome were thought to include the ~ 2.08-Ma Huckleberry Ridge Tuff, cropping out beneath Lava Creek Tuff members A and B. Mapped outcrops of this Huckleberry Ridge Tuff material were sampled as welded ignimbrite (sample YR345) on Sour Creek dome, and at nearby Bog Creek as welded ignimbrite (YR311) underlain by an indurated lithic lag breccia containing blocks of another welded ignimbrite (YR324). Zircon near-rim U–Pb analyses from these samples yield weighted mean ages of 661 ± 13 ka (YR345: 95% confidence), 655 ± 11 ka (YR311), and 664 ± 15 ka (YR324) (combined weighted mean of 658.8 ± 6.6 ka). We also studied two samples of ignimbrite previously mapped as Huckleberry Ridge Tuff on the northeastern perimeter of the Yellowstone Caldera, ~ 12 km ENE of Sour Creek dome. Sanidines from these samples yield 40Ar/39Ar age estimates of 634.5 ± 6.8 ka (8YC-358) and 630.9 ± 4.1 ka (8YC-359). These age data show that all these units represent previously unrecognized parts of the Lava Creek Tuff and do not have any relationship to the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff. Our observations and data imply that the Lava Creek eruption was more complex than is currently assumed, incorporating two tuff units additional to those currently mapped, and which themselves are separated by a time break sufficient for cooling and some reworking. The presence of a lag breccia suggests that a source vent lay nearby (< ~ 3 km) for some of the tuffs and that the Yellowstone Caldera boundary in this area could be reconsidered.


Yellowstone Lava Creek Tuff Sour Creek resurgent dome Zircon age dating 40Ar/39Ar age dating 



We thank Bob Christiansen for his support in introducing CJNW to the Yellowstone area, Diane Seward for her help in the mineral separation work, and Matt Coble and Andy Calvert for their technical and financial support on the SHRIMP-RG instrument. CJNW also acknowledges past support from a Royal Society of New Zealand James Cook Fellowship and Marsden Fund grant VUW0813. Reviews by Ben Ellis, Wes Hildreth, Madison Myers, and Brad Singer are greatly appreciated.

Supplementary material

445_2018_1229_MOESM1_ESM.xls (2.6 mb)
ESM 1 (XLS 2701 kb)
445_2018_1229_MOESM2_ESM.xls (172 kb)
ESM 2 (XLS 171 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin J. N. Wilson
    • 1
  • Mark E. Stelten
    • 2
  • Jacob B. Lowenstern
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Geography, Environment and Earth SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.U.S. Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA

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