The temporal and magmatic evolution of central Snake River Plain (SRP; Idaho, USA) olivine tholeiites erupted within the past 4 m.y. is evaluated here. This investigation correlates and merges both geochemical and paleomagnetic measurements to constrain the volcanic history recovered from the 340 m Regional Aquifer Systems Analysis (RASA) test well located near Wendell, Idaho. Only a handful of studies have accomplished this task of shedding light on the chemical stratigraphy of the SRP and the petrogenesis of basalts with depth, and therefore through time.
Paleomagnetic relationships suggest that time breaks between individual lava flows represent a few years to decades, time breaks between flow groups represent at least a couple of hundred years or possibly much longer, while significant hiatuses in volcanism, revealed by thick sediment packages or polarity reversals (both are evidenced in this well), are inferred to last thousands to tens of thousands of years. Major element geochemistry from 52 basaltic lava flows demonstrates near primitive compositions (i.e., ∼10 wt% MgO) and tholeiitic iron enrichment trends, similar to lavas from the eastern SRP. Trace element concentrations are similar to those of ocean island basalts, with enriched Ba and Pb, and light rare earth element (REE)/heavy REE ratios similar to those of many Neogene volcanics of the western Cordillera. When combined, we identify a total of 11 flow groups, which we also classify as fractionation or recharge on the basis of decreasing or increasing MgO weight percent with depth.
Taking into consideration these trends, we review the potential recharge, fractionation, and assimilation processes that characterize much of SRP olivine tholeiite, and conclude that assimilation, in combination with fractional crystallization, is the dominant petrogenesis for the basalts in the central SRP. Although fractionation of Wendell parent magmas was accompanied by assimilation of crustal material, this could not have been assimilation of ancient cratonic crust. The geochemical cycles observed in this well are inferred to represent fractionation and recharge of basaltic magma from a series of sill-like layered mafic intrusions located in the middle crust, similar to what has been proposed for the processes that control the eruptive history of basalts in the eastern SRP.
- Received 19 February 2013.
- Revision received 20 June 2013.
- Accepted 14 August 2013.
- © Geological Society of America