Common assumptions and methods yield overestimated diffusive timescales, as exemplified in a Yellowstone post-caldera lava

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3 Scopus citations


To interpret modern-day unrest at Yellowstone Caldera, timescales leading up to its most common type of eruption—effusively emplaced rhyolite—must be quantified. This work takes advantage of the different rates of elemental diffusion in clinopyroxene to calculate the magmatic timescales of events preceding eruption of the ca. 262 ka Scaup Lake rhyolite, which ended ~ 220,000 years of dormancy in this high-silica system. Here, we present diffusion chronometry timescales accounting for various sources of error and using multiple elements from NanoSIMS measurements of clinopyroxene rims. We combine these with previously published timescales from sanidine rims to better understand the relationship between timescales captured by different minerals from the same volcanic event. We show that timescales archived by rims of different types of phenocrysts from the same lava may not be concomitant. The Scaup Lake rhyolite appears to have undergone several rejuvenation events over ~ 5000 years before its eruption, and the last events (< 40 years before eruption) were not recorded by clinopyroxene. This work highlights the importance of using multiple methods to determine a timescale for a given process. Although many studies use Fe–Mg zonation from BSE images to calculate diffusive timescales alone, we show that these are maximums or overestimates if not referenced to the appropriate initial condition. Instead, we demonstrate that diffusion chronometry conducted with multiple elements in multiple mineral phases with rigorous error propagation produces the most robust and accurate temporal results. In addition, we recommend that diffusion chronometry results not be interpreted in isolation, but rather in a holistic petrological approach that includes consideration of the relevant phase equilibria and crystal growth and dissolution rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number63
JournalContributions to Mineralogy and Petrology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Clinopyroxene
  • Diffusion chronometry
  • Initial condition
  • Rhyolite
  • Sanidine
  • Yellowstone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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