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Thermomechanical modelling of enclave deformation demonstrates that plutons grow in response to repeated injections of small pulses of magma
Plutons are large igneous bodies formed from the slow cooling of molten rock in the subsurface. Their construction reflects how magma is produced and transferred from depth, though whether this happens through sudden episodes of magma injection or small pulses of growth is a matter of active research.
Granitic plutons commonly contain mafic enclaves (fragments of less chemically evolved magma suspended in a more evolved host), produced from the intrusion and disaggregation of hotter, more mafic melts into cooler, more felsic magma. Distortion of these roughly spherical enclaves reflects the strain experienced by different areas of the pluton. The study, from Caricchi and co-authors from the University of Bristol, harnesses this record of deformation to probe the rheological, and hence thermal, evolution of a pluton during its accretion.
Caricchi et al. found that the repeated injection of magmatic pulses into a pluton resulted in expansion of the body, but that enclaves were only deformed in a two narrow temperature windows in which both the host and enclave had a similar viscosity. Knowing this, the team developed a thermomechanical model to simulate how the strain trajectories of enclaves vary as a function of time and distance from the magma injection point. Application of this model to the Lago Della Vacca Complex (LDVC), a 4.5 by 4.7 km section of the Adamello Pluton in Italy, shows that the magma body underwent radial expansion in response to multi-stage growth over 50,000- 150,000 years. Their findings are in agreement with recent geochronological estimates from zircon dating of the structure, and supply evidence for the ‘piecemeal’ nature of pluton assembly.
Caricchi, L, Annen, CJ, Rust, AC & Blundy, JD (2012) ‘Insights into the mechanisms and timescales of pluton assembly from deformation patterns of mafic enclaves’ Journal of Geophysical Research, vol 117, no. B11206. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2012JB009325