Mantle source volumes and the origin of the mid-Tertiary ignimbrite flare-up in the southern Rocky Mountains, western U.S.

G. Lang Farmer, Treasure Bailley, Linda T. Elkins-Tanton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Voluminous intermediate to silicic composition volcanic rocks were generated throughout the southern Rocky Mountains, western U.S., during the mid-Tertiary "ignimbrite flare-up", principally at the San Juan and Mogollon-Datil volcanic fields. At both volcanic centers, radiogenic isotope data have been interpreted as evidence that 50% or more of the volcanic rocks (by mass) were derived from mantle-derived, mafic parental magmas, but no consensus exists as to whether melting was largely of lithospheric or sub-lithospheric mantle. Recent xenolith studies, however, have revealed that thick (> 100 km), fertile, and hydrated continental lithosphere was present beneath at least portions of the southern Rocky Mountains during the mid-Tertiary. The presence of such thick mantle lithosphere, combined with an apparent lack of syn-magmatic extension, leaves conductive heating of lithospheric mantle as a plausible method of generating the mafic magmas that fueled the ignimbrite flare-up in this inland region. To further assess this possibility, we estimated the minimum volume of mantle needed to generate the mafic magmas parental to the preserved mid-Tertiary igneous rocks. Conservative estimates of the mantle source volumes that supplied the Mogollon-Datil and San Juan volcanic fields are ∼ 2 M km3 and ∼ 7 M km3, respectively. These volumes could have comprised only lithospheric mantle if at least the lower ∼ 20 km of the mantle lithosphere beneath the entire southern Rocky Mountains region underwent partial melting during the mid-Tertiary and if the resulting mafic magmas were drawn laterally for distances of up to ∼ 300 km into each center. Such widespread melting of lithospheric mantle requires that the lithospheric mantle have been uniformly fertile and primed for melting in the mid-Tertiary, a possibility if the lithospheric mantle had experienced widespread hydration and refrigeration during early Tertiary low angle subduction. Exposure of the mantle lithosphere to hot, upwelling sub-lithospheric mantle during mid-Tertiary slab roll back could have then triggered the mantle melting. While a plausible source for mid-Tertiary basaltic magmas in the southern Rocky Mountains, lithospheric mantle could not have been the sole source for mafic magmas generated to the south in that portion of the ignimbrite flare-up now preserved in the Sierra Madre Occidental of northern Mexico. The large mantle source volumes (> 45 M km3) required to fuel the voluminous silicic ignimbrites deposited in this region (> 400 K km3) are too large to have been accommodated within the lithospheric mantle alone, implying that melting in sub-lithospheric mantle must have played a significant role in generating this mid-Tertiary magmatic event.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-294
Number of pages16
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Ignimbrite flare-up
  • Mantle source volumes
  • Southern Rocky Mountains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'Mantle source volumes and the origin of the mid-Tertiary ignimbrite flare-up in the southern Rocky Mountains, western U.S.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this