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Concept: Basalt


A fragment of continental crust has been postulated to underlie the young plume-related lavas of the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius based on the recovery of Proterozoic zircons from basaltic beach sands. Here we document the first U-Pb zircon ages recovered directly from 5.7 Ma Mauritian trachytic rocks. We identified concordant Archaean xenocrystic zircons ranging in age between 2.5 and 3.0 Ga within a trachyte plug that crosscuts Older Series plume-related basalts of Mauritius. Our results demonstrate the existence of ancient continental crust beneath Mauritius; based on the entire spectrum of U-Pb ages for old Mauritian zircons, we demonstrate that this ancient crust is of central-east Madagascar affinity, which is presently located ∼700 km west of Mauritius. This makes possible a detailed reconstruction of Mauritius and other Mauritian continental fragments, which once formed part of the ancient nucleus of Madagascar and southern India.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Igneous rock, India, Indian Ocean, Madagascar, Basalt, Lava, Mauritius


Eruptive phenomena at all scales, from hydrothermal geysers to flood basalts, can potentially be initiated or modulated by external mechanical perturbations. We present evidence for the triggering of magmatism on a global scale by the Chicxulub meteorite impact at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary, recorded by transiently increased crustal production at mid-ocean ridges. Concentrated positive free-air gravity and coincident seafloor topographic anomalies, associated with seafloor created at fast-spreading rates, suggest volumes of excess magmatism in the range of ~105to 106km3. Widespread mobilization of existing mantle melt by post-impact seismic radiation can explain the volume and distribution of the anomalous crust. This massive but short-lived pulse of marine magmatism should be considered alongside the Chicxulub impact and Deccan Traps as a contributor to geochemical anomalies and environmental changes at K-Pg time.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Basalt, Dinosaur, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Flood basalt, Chicxulub crater, Deccan Traps, Shiva crater


The timing and nature of igneous activity recorded at a single Mars ejection site can be determined from the isotope analyses of Martian meteorites. Northwest Africa (NWA) 7635 has an Sm-Nd crystallization age of 2.403 ± 0.140 billion years, and isotope data indicate that it is derived from an incompatible trace element-depleted mantle source similar to that which produced a geochemically distinct group of 327- to 574-million-year-old “depleted” shergottites. Cosmogenic nuclide data demonstrate that NWA 7635 was ejected from Mars 1.1 million years ago (Ma), as were at least 10 other depleted shergottites. The shared ejection age is consistent with a common ejection site for these meteorites. The spatial association of 327- to 2403-Ma depleted shergottites indicates >2 billion years of magmatism from a long-lived and geochemically distinct volcanic center near the ejection site.

Concepts: Mars, Isotope, Meteorite, Basalt, Olivine, Mars meteorite, Chassigny


The Palaeogene Ardnamurchan central igneous complex, NW Scotland, was a defining place for the development of the classic concepts of cone-sheet and ring-dyke emplacement and has thus fundamentally influenced our thinking on subvolcanic structures. We have used the available structural information on Ardnamurchan to project the underlying three-dimensional (3D) cone-sheet structure. Here we show that a single elongate magma chamber likely acted as the source of the cone-sheet swarm(s) instead of the traditionally accepted model of three successive centres. This proposal is supported by the ridge-like morphology of the Ardnamurchan volcano and is consistent with the depth and elongation of the gravity anomaly underlying the peninsula. Our model challenges the traditional model of cone-sheet emplacement at Ardnamurchan that involves successive but independent centres in favour of a more dynamical one that involves a single, but elongate and progressively evolving magma chamber system.

Concepts: Structure, Earth, Igneous rock, System, Magma, Basalt, Volcanology, Caldera


The 2012 submarine eruption of Havre volcano in the Kermadec arc, New Zealand, is the largest deep-ocean eruption in history and one of very few recorded submarine eruptions involving rhyolite magma. It was recognized from a gigantic 400-km2 pumice raft seen in satellite imagery, but the complexity of this event was concealed beneath the sea surface. Mapping, observations, and sampling by submersibles have provided an exceptionally high fidelity record of the seafloor products, which included lava sourced from 14 vents at water depths of 900 to 1220 m, and fragmental deposits including giant pumice clasts up to 9 m in diameter. Most (>75%) of the total erupted volume was partitioned into the pumice raft and transported far from the volcano. The geological record on submarine volcanic edifices in volcanic arcs does not faithfully archive eruption size or magma production.

Concepts: New Zealand, Pumice, Volcano, Magma, Basalt, Lava, Volcanology, Komatiite


Mass extinction events are short-lived and characterized by catastrophic biosphere collapse and subsequent reorganization. Their abrupt nature necessitates a similarly short-lived trigger, and large igneous province magmatism is often implicated. However, large igneous provinces are long-lived compared to mass extinctions. Therefore, if large igneous provinces are an effective trigger, a subinterval of magmatism must be responsible for driving deleterious environmental effects. The onset of Earth’s most severe extinction, the end-Permian, coincided with an abrupt change in the emplacement style of the contemporaneous Siberian Traps large igneous province, from dominantly flood lavas to sill intrusions. Here we identify the initial emplacement pulse of laterally extensive sills as the critical deadly interval. Heat from these sills exposed untapped volatile-fertile sediments to contact metamorphism, likely liberating the massive greenhouse gas volumes needed to drive extinction. These observations suggest that large igneous provinces characterized by sill complexes are more likely to trigger catastrophic global environmental change than their flood basalt- and/or dike-dominated counterparts.Although the mass end-Permian extinction is linked to large igneous provinces, its trigger remains unclear. Here, the authors propose that the abrupt change from flood lavas to sills resulted in the heating of sediments and led to the release of large-scale greenhouse gases to drive the end-Permian extinction.

Concepts: Earth, Extinction, Basalt, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Permian–Triassic extinction event, Large igneous province, Siberian Traps


Crystals formed prior to a volcanic event can provide evidence of processes leading to and timing of eruptions. Clinopyroxene is common in basaltic to intermediate volcanoes, however, its ability as a recorder of pre-eruptive histories has remained comparatively underexplored. Here we show that novel high-resolution trace element images of clinopyroxene track eruption triggers and timescales at Mount Etna (Sicily, Italy). Chromium (Cr) distribution in clinopyroxene from 1974 to 2014 eruptions reveals punctuated episodes of intrusion of primitive magma at depth. Magma mixing efficiently triggered volcanism (success rate up to 90%), within only 2 weeks of arrival of mafic intrusions. Clinopyroxene zonations distinguish between injections of mafic magma and regular recharges with more evolved magma, which often fail to tip the system to erupt. High Cr zonations can therefore be used to reconstruct past eruptions and inform responses to geophysical signals of volcano unrest, potentially offering an additional approach to volcano hazard monitoring.

Concepts: Volcano, Sicily, Magma, Basalt, Lava, Volcanology, Mount Vesuvius, Decade Volcanoes


Columnar joints form by cracking during cooling-induced contraction of lava, allowing hydrothermal fluid circulation. A lack of direct observations of their formation has led to ambiguity about the temperature window of jointing and its impact on fluid flow. Here we develop a novel thermo-mechanical experiment to disclose the temperature of columnar jointing in lavas. Using basalts from Eyjafjallajökull volcano (Iceland) we show that contraction during cooling induces stress build-up below the solidus temperature (980 °C), resulting in localised macroscopic failure between 890 and 840 °C. This temperature window for incipient columnar jointing is supported by modelling informed by mechanical testing and thermal expansivity measurements. We demonstrate that columnar jointing takes place well within the solid state of volcanic rocks, and is followed by a nonlinear increase in system permeability of <9 orders of magnitude during cooling. Columnar jointing may promote advective cooling in magmatic-hydrothermal environments and fluid loss during geothermal drilling and thermal stimulation.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Rock, Pumice, Volcano, Magma, Basalt, Lava, Volcanology


The end-Triassic extinction is one of the Phanerozoic’s largest mass extinctions. This extinction is typically attributed to climate change associated with degassing of basalt flows from the central Atlantic magmatic province (CAMP). However, recent work suggests that the earliest known CAMP basalts occur above the extinction horizon and that climatic and biotic changes began before the earliest known CAMP eruptions. Here we present new high-precision U-Pb ages from CAMP mafic intrusive units, showing that magmatic activity was occurring ∼100 Kyr ago before the earliest known eruptions. We correlate the early magmatic activity with the onset of changes to the climatic and biotic records. We also report ages from sills in an organic rich sedimentary basin in Brazil that intrude synchronously with the extinction suggesting that degassing of these organics contributed to the climate change which drove the extinction. Our results indicate that the intrusive record from large igneous provinces may be more important for linking to mass extinctions than the eruptive record.

Concepts: Earth, Igneous rock, Extinction, Petrology, Magma, Basalt, Dinosaur, Extinction event


Strong ground motions induce large dynamic stress changes that may disturb the magma chamber of a volcano, thus accelerating the volcanic activity. An underground nuclear explosion test near an active volcano constitutes a direct treat to the volcano. This study examined the dynamic stress changes of the magma chamber of Baekdusan (Changbaishan) that can be induced by hypothetical North Korean nuclear explosions. Seismic waveforms for hypothetical underground nuclear explosions at North Korean test site were calculated by using an empirical Green’s function approach based on a source-spectral model of a nuclear explosion; such a technique is efficient for regions containing poorly constrained velocity structures. The peak ground motions around the volcano were estimated from empirical strong-motion attenuation curves. A hypothetical M7.0 North Korean underground nuclear explosion may produce peak ground accelerations of 0.1684 m/s(2) in the horizontal direction and 0.0917 m/s(2) in the vertical direction around the volcano, inducing peak dynamic stress change of 67 kPa on the volcano surface and ~120 kPa in the spherical magma chamber. North Korean underground nuclear explosions with magnitudes of 5.0-7.6 may induce overpressure in the magma chamber of several tens to hundreds of kilopascals.

Concepts: Hawaii, Volcano, Magma, Basalt, Lava, Volcanology, Caldera, Mantle plume