Magmatic stoping, i.e., the formation, transfer into, and movement through magma of older plutonic and metamorphic host-rock xenoliths, was widespread in the Mesozoic Sierra Nevada batholith (California, United States). However, the prevailing view that stoped blocks form by rapid thermal shattering and collapse into chambers may not be the dominant process of block formation and displacement into chambers in the Sierra Nevada. In detailed studies in and around the Tuolumne Batholith and Jackass Lakes pluton, we found evidence for the following history of block formation in slightly older, fairly isotropic plutonic host rocks: (1) low stress sites developed, leading to planar zones of increased porosity; (2) focused porous flow of first felsic melts followed by intermediate melts led to growth of magma fingers, which in turn led to increased porosity and loss of host-rock cohesion; and (3) connection of magmatic fingers resulted in the formation of dike-like channels in which flow facilitated removal of all host-rock material in these planar zones. Once formed, blocks were initially displaced by repeated magma injections along these channels, often resulting in unidirectional growth in these zones creating local magmatic sheeted complexes along block margins. Free block rotation occurred when sufficient nonlayered magma surrounded the host block; in some cases, segments of former sheeted zones remain attached to rotated blocks.
In anisotropic metamorphic host rocks, focused porous flow may have locally played a role, but the dominant processes during initial block formation were cracking, parallel and at high angles to anisotropy, and intrusion of magma by channel flow. Subsequent initial block displacement and eventual rotation are identical to those in the nearly isotropic host rock. The driving forces for the development of low-stress sites, cracking, dilation, and magma flow remain uncertain, but likely reflect the interplay between regional stress, magma buoyancy stresses, thermal gradients, and host-rock properties, and not simply rapid heating and thermal expansion cracking. Thus a number of processes may drive block formation, some of which are rapid (thermal shattering, roof collapse) whereas others occur over longer durations (incremental magma pulsing and formation of sheeted complexes, regional deformation).