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Cumulate xenoliths betray small scale changes in melt composition and magma storage conditions

A texturally diverse suite of cumulates beneath Grenada, Lesser Antilles, are produced at shallow depths and show marked differences from comparable rocks in the same volcanic arc

Primitive melts produced beneath island arc volcanoes are rarely erupted at the surface in their original form, instead charting a huge variety of evolved compositions and testifying to the influence of intracrustal processing during magmatic ascent. The study of cumulates (coarse-grained igneous rocks) that sample directly from magma storage regions offers a chance to glimpse a ‘snapshot’ of this magmatic evolution.

A new CRITMAG-funded study by Stamper and co-workers combines major element analysis of mineral compositions in plutonic xenoliths and volcanic rocks with data from previous experimental studies. The data is used to explore the differentiation of mantle-derived magmas beneath volcanic island of Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

Photomicrograph (PPL) of poikilitic hornblende gabbro. Hornblende oikocrysts containing inclusions of clinopyroxene, spinel and iddingsitised olivine, with interstitial plagioclase.

Photomicrograph (PPL) of poikilitic hornblende gabbro. Hornblende oikocrysts containing inclusions of clinopyroxene, spinel and iddingsitised olivine, with interstitial plagioclase.

They find that observed diversity in cumulate assemblage and texture is caused by variability in parental melt composition and post-cumulus interaction with hydrous evolved melts. The whole plutonic suite is produced in a narrow pressure window (P = 0.2 – 0.5 GPa) at ∼ 850 – 1050◦C, tracing a shallow (depth ≤15km) section of a vertically extensive volcanic system. Major element barometers and experimental phase relations indicate that the source magma underwent equilibration with a garnet lherzolite source at depth of ≥55 km.

Grenada cumulates are notably different from those found on the neighbouring island of St Vincent, which lies only 120 km to the north. At Grenada, lower magmatic H2O contents are manifest are in plagioclase-rich cumulates and aluminous spinels. The contrast in assemblages and mineral chemistry of cumulate xenoliths from the two islands demonstrate the effect of small scale changes in melt composition and magma storage conditions.

Stamper CC, Blundy JD, Arculus RJ, & Melekhova E. (2014) ‘Petrology of Plutonic Xenoliths and Volcanic Rocks from Grenada, Lesser Antilles’. Journal of Petrology, 55(7), 1353-1387.




Experimental tracking of primitive magmas beneath Grenada, Lesser Antilles

High pressure experiments on a high-Mg basalt indicate parental magmas beneath Grenada are oxidised, and resolve the origin of two distinct lavas series

Experimental petrologists at the University of Bristol conducted experiments on lavas from Grenada using a range of experimental apparata to simulate to pressures and temperatures found beneath the island arc volcano. The redox conditions of the experimental runs were measured using the Diamond Light Source synchrotron, UK, and spanned a wide range of oxygen fugacities.  Synthetic replicas of natural rocks produced at moderately oxidising conditions were found to be comparable to the most primitive lavas erupted on Grenada.

Stamper and co-workers were able to use the composition of olivine crystals produced in experiments to calibrate a novel oxybarometer, which uses the partitioning of Fe and Mg between liquid and crystals to measure the oxygen fugacity of an olivine-bearing basalt.

Piston cylinder experiment from Stamper et al. 2014

A synthetic replica of a Grenadan magma produced during a high pressure experiment, as seen through a scanning electron microscope (gl: glass, ol: olivine, qu: quench, spl: splinel)

Experiments from this study also resolve the origin of the geochemically and petrographically distinct M- and C-series lavas, the latter type being unique to Grenada. At high pressures, experimental liquids are able to track the geochemical evolution of the highly magnesian M-series. In contrast, at lower pressures, clinopyroxene saturation is displaced to lower temperatures, relative to olivine, and so residual melts generated at these conditions become enriched in calcium, replicating the characteristic feature of the C-series.

Stamper CC, Melekhova E, Blundy JD, Arculus, RJ, Humphreys, MCS & Brooker, RA (2014) ‘Oxidised phase relations of a primitive basalt from Grenada, Lesser Antilles’, Contibutions to Mineralogy and Petrology, 167:954.



Compositional distribution of erupted lavas is controlled by phase relations of primitive basalts

High pressure experiments demonstrate that variations in water content and depth of differentiation can produce a wide variety of erupted lavas from a single primitive source

Lava suites erupted from individual volcanic centres commonly exhibit a compositional ‘gap’ between basaltic and rhyolitic compositions, where the volume of intermediate eruptives is less than mafic and acidic equivalents.  A study by Melekhova and co-workers explores the distribution of lava compositions erupted from crustal volcanoes, focusing on a case study from the volcanic island of St Vincent in the Lesser Antilles. The crystallisation of cooling basaltic magmas was simulated using high pressure experiments, with synthetic run products analysed using a variety of microanalytical techniques.  The authors discovered that variation in melt fraction (the amount of molten rock remaining in the model system) and melt composition with temperature is controlled by the composition of minerals crystallising from the parent magma. For example, a rapid decrease in melt fraction, and increase in melt SiO2, occurs when the minerals and melt have similar (eutectic-like) compositions, which is the case when little water is present.

Summit of Soufriere St Vincent, Lesser Antilles,

View of lava dome in the summit caldera of Soufriere St Vincent, Lesser Antilles. Credit: Richard Arculus

The experimentally determined phase relations were incorporated into a numerical model, which allowed enabled the team to explore the evolution of a magmatic system over time by simulating the incremental emplacement of small batches of magma beneath a volcano. When model results were compared with natural rocks from St Vincent, the best fit is produced by theoretical runs with water contents mirroring data from recently analysed melt inclusions, and heat content correlating well with the age of the island (~0.4 – 2.0 Ma). Furthermore, calculations show that the observed bimodality in erupted compositions is a natural consequence of the ‘damp’ nature of sub-arc melts.

Although Melekhova et al.’s approach focused on an oceanic island arc volcano, it offers insights into other types of volcanic system; because magmas produced from a given basalt exhibit tractable changes in composition with time, they can be compared to lavas from any igneous terrains where there are good temporal constraints on changing magma (or melt inclusion) chemistry.

Melekhova, E, Annen, CJ & Blundy, JD (2013) ‘Compositional gaps in igneous rock suites controlled by magma system heat and water content’ Nature Geoscience, vol 6, pp. 385-390.