Layered Intrusions

Part of the series Springer Geology pp 3-74


Geochronology of Layered Intrusions

  • James S. ScoatesAffiliated withDepartment of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences, Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research, University of British Columbia Email author 
  • , Corey J. WallAffiliated withDepartment of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences, Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research, University of British Columbia

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Layered intrusions crystallize mainly from basaltic magma to form large bodies of igneous rocks that exhibit prominent layering and they preserve stunning rock records of the processes by which magma evolves in crustal magma chambers. These intrusions contain world-class deposits of chromium, platinum group elements (PGE), and vanadium, metals that are vital to industry and society in general. Despite their scientific and practical importance, precise age constraints are lacking for many layered intrusions, and geochronological frameworks linking crystallization and cooling ages for the most part do not exist. This has resulted in critical knowledge gaps related to their origin and formation. This chapter provides an overview of dating methods (U–Th–Pb, 40Ar/39Ar) and mineral chronometers (e.g., zircon, baddeleyite, rutile, apatite, titanite) potentially present in layered intrusions that is coupled with field, textural, and petrographic criteria for targeting sample selection to allow for the successful implementation of geochronologic studies of layered mafic-ultramafic rocks of any age. As an application, we demonstrate how the thermal history of the Bushveld Complex is documented by mineral ages from samples of the PGE-rich Merensky Reef. High-precision U–Pb zircon ages, involving pretreatment of zircon by the chemical abrasion (annealing and leaching) or CA-TIMS technique, for two samples separated by > 300 km are indistinguishable from each other (2056.88 ± 0.41 Ma, Eastern Limb; 2057.04 ± 0.55 Ma, Western Limb; uncertainty reported as 2s) confirming synchronous crystallization of this horizon at near-solidus conditions across the intrusion. Rapid cooling (~ 125 °C/Ma) down to temperatures of ~ 400–450 °C is defined by U–Pb rutile ages from the same samples (2052.96 ± 0.61 Ma, 2053.0 ± 2.7 Ma) and a regional hydrothermal event is signaled in 40Ar/39Ar biotite ages (1999 ± 10 Ma, 2002 ± 10 Ma). The geochronology of layered intrusions, where magma differentiation processes are captured in a wide range of rock textures and structures, represents an essential tool for assessing the evolution of mafic magmatism in the Earth’s crust.


Zircon Baddeleyite Cumulates Bushveld U–Pb dating