Geochronological imaging of an episodically constructed subvolcanic batholith: U-Pb in zircon chronochemistry of the Altiplano-Puna Volcanic Complex of the Central Andes

Jamie M. Kern, Shanaka L. de Silva, Axel K. Schmitt, Jason F. Kaiser, A. Rodrigo Iriarte, Rita Economos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Zircons from 15 crystal-rich monotonous intermediate ignimbrites and 1 crystal-poor rhyolite ignimbrite erupted during the 11-1 Ma Altiplano-Puna Volcanic Complex (APVC) ignimbrite flare-up record multiscale episodicity in the magmatic history of the shallowest levels (5-10 km beneath the surface) of the Altiplano-Puna Magma Body (APMB). This record reveals the construction of a subvolcanic batholith and its magmatic and eruptive tempo. More than 750 U-Pb ages of zircon rims and interiors of polished grains determined by secondary ion mass spectrometry define complex age spectra for each ignimbrite with a dominant peak of autocrysts and subsidiary antecryst peaks. Xenocrysts are rare. Weighted averages obtained by pooling the youngest analytically indistinguishable zircon ages mostly correspond to the dominant crystallization ages for zircons in the magma. These magmatic ages are consistent with eruptive stratigraphy, and fall into four groups defining distinct pulses (from older to younger, pulses 1 through 4) of magmatism that correlate with eruptive pulses, but indicate that magmatic construction in each pulse initiated at least 1 m.y. before eruptions began. Magmatism was initially distributed diffusely on the eastern and western flanks of the APVC, but spread out over much of the APVC as activity waxed before focusing in the central part during the peak of the flare-up. Each pulse consists of spatially distinct but temporally sequenced subpulses of magma that represent the construction of pre-eruptive magma reservoirs. Three nested calderas were the main eruptive loci during the peak of the flare-up from ca. 6 to 2.5 Ma. These show broadly synchronous magmatic development but some discordance in their later eruptive histories. These relations are interpreted to indicate that eruptive tempo is controlled locally from the top down, while magmatic tempo is a more systemic, deeper, bottom-up feature. Synchroneity in magmatic history at distinct upper crustal magmatic foci implicates a shared connection deeper within the APMB. Each ignimbrite records the development of a discrete magma. Zircon age distributions of individual ignimbrites become more complex with time, reflecting the carryover of antecrysts in successively younger magmas and attesting to upper crustal assimilation in the APVC. Although present, xenocrysts are rare, suggesting that inheritance is limited. This is attributed to basement assimilation under zircon-undersaturated conditions deeper in the APMB than the pre-eruptive levels, where antecrysts were incorporated in zircon- saturated conditions. Magmatic ages for individual ignimbrites are older than the 40Ar/39Ar eruption ages. This difference is interpreted as the average minimum Zr-saturated melt-present lifetime for APVC magmas, the magmatic duration or Δ age. The average Δ age of ca. 0.4 Ma indicates that thermochemical conditions for zircon saturation were maintained for several hundreds of thousands of years prior to eruption of APVC magmas. This is consistent with a narrow range of zircon saturation temperatures of 730-815 °C that record upper crustal conditions and Zr/Hf, Th/U, Eu/Eu*, and Ti that reveal protracted magma differentiation under secular cooling rates an order of magnitude slower than typical pluton cooling rates. In concert, these data all suggest that the pre-eruptive magma reservoirs were perched in a thermally and chemically buffered state during their long pre-eruptive lifetimes. Trace element variations suggest subtle differences in crystallinity, melt fraction, and melt composition within different zones of individual magma reservoirs. Significant volumes of plutonic rocks associated with ignimbrites are supported by geophysical data, the limited compositional range over 10 m.y., the thermal inertia of the magmatic systems, and the evidence of resurgent magmatism and uplift at the calderas and eruptive centers, the distribution of which defines a composite, episodically constructed subvolcanic batholith. The multiscale episodicity revealed by the zircon U-Pb ages of the APVC flare-up can be interpreted in the context of continental arc magmatic systems in general. The APVC ignimbrite flare-up as a whole is a secondary pulse of ~10 m.y., with magmatic pulses 1 through 4 reflecting tertiary pulses of ~2 m.y., and the individual ignimbrite zircon spectra defining quaternary pulses of < 1 m.y. This hierarchy of pulses is thought to reflect how a magmatic front, driven by the primary mantle power input, propagates through the crust with individual magmatic events occurring over sequentially smaller spatial and faster temporal scales in the upper crust of the Central Andes from ~30 km to the surface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1054-1077
Number of pages24
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding by the National Science Foundation (grant EAR-0838536 to de Silva and Schmitt and grants EAR-0710545 and EAR-0908324 to de Silva) is gratefully acknowledged, as are Geological Society of America Graduate Research grants to Kern, Kaiser, and Iriarte. Support in the field by Nestor Jimenez, Mayel Sunagua, Benigno Godoy, Dale Burns, Casey Tierney, Stephanie Grocke, Michael Ort, Morgan Salisbury, and various PLUTONS Project (funded by the National Science Foundation Continental Dynamics Program and the Natural Environment Research Council) colleagues helped realize the mapping, sampling, and other studies that facilitated this study. We thank Matt Coble and Jonathan Miller for thorough reviews and Gary Michelfelder and Ray Russo for editorial handling, all of which improved this work in clarity, focus, and impact. The ion microprobe facility at University of California, Los Angeles, is partly supported by a grant from the Instrumentation and Facilities Program, Division of Earth Sciences, National Science Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Authors.


Dive into the research topics of 'Geochronological imaging of an episodically constructed subvolcanic batholith: U-Pb in zircon chronochemistry of the Altiplano-Puna Volcanic Complex of the Central Andes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this