Magma fluxes regulate the planetary thermal budget, the growth of continents and the frequency and magnitude of volcanic eruptions, and play a part in the genesis and size of magmatic ore deposits1,2,3,4. However, because a large fraction of the magma produced on the Earth does not erupt at the surface2,5, determinations of magma fluxes are rare and this compromises our ability to establish a link between global heat transfer and large-scale geological processes. Here we show that age distributions of zircons, a mineral often present in crustal magmatic rocks6, in combination with thermal modelling, provide an accurate means of retrieving magma fluxes. The characteristics of zircon age populations vary significantly and systematically as a function of the flux and total volume of magma accumulated in the Earth’s crust. Our approach produces results that are consistent with independent determinations of magma fluxes and volumes of magmatic systems. Analysis of existing age population data sets using our method suggests that porphyry-type deposits, plutons and large eruptions each require magma input over different timescales at different characteristic average fluxes. We anticipate that more extensive and complete magma flux data sets will serve to clarify the control that the global heat flux exerts on the frequency of geological events such as volcanic eruptions, and to determine the main factors controlling the distribution of resources on our planet.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Crisp, J. A. Rates of magma emplacement and volcanic output. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 20, 177–211 (1984)
White, S. M., Crisp, J. A. & Spera, F. J. Long-term volumetric eruption rates and magma budgets. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 7, Q03010 (2006)
Caricchi, L., Annen, C., Blundy, J., Simpson, G. & Pinel, V. Frequency and magnitude of volcanic eruptions controlled by magma injection and buoyancy. Nature Geosci. 7, 126–130 (2014)
Longo, A. A., Dilles, J. H., Grunder, A. L. & Duncan, R. Evolution of calc-alkaline volcanism and associated hydrothermal gold deposits at Yanacocha, Peru. Econ. Geol. 105, 1191–1241 (2010)
Lipman, P. W. Incremental assembly and prolonged consolidation of Cordilleran magma chambers: evidence from the Southern Rocky Mountain volcanic field. Geosphere 3, 42 (2007)
Watson, E. B. & Harrison, T. M. Zircon saturation revisited: temperature and composition effects in a variety of crustal magma types. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 64, 295–304 (1983)
Schaltegger, U. et al. Zircon and titanite recording 1.5 million years of magma accretion, crystallization and initial cooling in a composite pluton (southern Adamello batholith, northern Italy). Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 286, 208–218 (2009)
Schoene, B. et al. Rates of magma differentiation and emplacement in a ballooning pluton recorded by U–Pb TIMS-TEA, Adamello batholith, Italy. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 355–356, 162–173 (2012)
Michel, J., Baumgartner, L., Putlitz, B., Schaltegger, U. & Ovtcharova, M. Incremental growth of the Patagonian Torres del Paine laccolith over 90 k.y. Geology 36, 459 (2008)
Leuthold, J. et al. Time resolved construction of a bimodal laccolith (Torres del Paine, Patagonia). Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 325–326, 85–92 (2012)
Lissenberg, C. J., Rioux, M., Shimizu, N., Bowring, S. A. & Mevel, C. Zircon dating of oceanic crustal accretion. Science 323, 1048–1050 (2009)
Annen, C. From plutons to magma chambers: thermal constraints on the accumulation of eruptible silicic magma in the upper crust. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 284, 409–416 (2009)
Michaut, C. & Jaupart, C. Ultra-rapid formation of large volumes of evolved magma. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 250, 38–52 (2006)
Glazner, A. F., Bartley, J. M., Coleman, D. S., Gray, W. & Taylor, R. Z. Are plutons assembled over millions of years by amalgamation from small magma chambers? GSA Today 14, 4–11 (2004)
Caricchi, L., Annen, C., Rust, A. & Blundy, J. Insights into the mechanisms and timescales of pluton assembly from deformation patterns of mafic enclaves. J. Geophys. Res. 117, B11206 (2012)
Piwinskii, A. J. & Wyllie, P. J. Experimental studies of igneous rock series—a zoned pluton in Wallowa batholith Oregon. J. Geol. 76, 205–234 (1968)
Boehnke, P., Watson, E. B., Trail, D., Harrison, T. M. & Schmitt, A. K. Zircon saturation re-revisited. Chem. Geol. 351, 324–334 (2013)
Harrison, T. M., Watson, E. B. & Aikman, A. B. Temperature spectra of zircon crystallization in plutonic rocks. Geology 35, 635 (2007)
Jaeger, J. C. Thermal effects of intrusions. Rev. Geophys. Space Phys. 2, 443–466 (1964)
Marsh, B. D. On the crystallinity, probability of occurrence, and rheology of lava and magma. Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 78, 85–98 (1981)
von Quadt, A. et al. Zircon crystallization and the lifetimes of ore-forming magmatic-hydrothermal systems. Geology 39, 731–734 (2011)
Steinberger, I., Hinks, D., Driesner, T. & Heinrich, C. A. Source plutons driving porphyry copper ore formation: combining geomagnetic data, thermal constraints, and chemical mass balance to quantify the magma chamber beneath the Bingham Canyon deposit. Econ. Geol. 108, 605–624 (2013)
John, B. E. & Blundy, J. D. Emplacement-related deformation of granitoid magmas, southern Adamello massif, Italy. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 105, 1517–1541 (1993)
de Saint Blanquat, M. et al. Multiscale magmatic cyclicity, duration of pluton construction, and the paradoxical relationship between tectonism and plutonism in continental arcs. Tectonophysics 500, 20–33 (2011)
Chelle-Michou, C., Chiaradia, M., Ovtcharova, M., Ulianov, A. & Wotzlaw, J.-F. Zircon petrochronology reveals the temporal link between porphyry systems and the magmatic evolution of their hidden plutonic roots (the Eocene Coroccohuayco deposit, Peru). Lithos 198–199, 129–140 (2014)
Wotzlaw, J. F. et al. Tracking the evolution of large-volume silicic magma reservoirs from assembly to supereruption. Geology 41, 867–870 (2013)
Lipman, P. W., Dungan, M. A., Brown, L. L. & Deino, A. Recurrent eruption and subsidence at the Platoro caldera complex, southeastern San Juan volcanic field, Colorado: new tales from old tuffs. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 108, 1039–1055 (1996)
Wilson, C. J. N. & Charlier, B. L. A. Rapid rates of magma generation at contemporaneous magma systems, Taupo volcano, New Zealand: insights from U-Th model-age spectra in zircons. J. Petrol. 50, 875–907 (2009)
Jellinek, A. M. & DePaolo, D. J. A model for the origin of large silicic magma chambers: precursors of caldera-forming eruptions. Bull. Volcanol. 65, 363–381 (2003)
Gregg, P. M., de Silva, S. L., Grosfils, E. B. & Parmigiani, J. P. Catastrophic caldera-forming eruptions: thermomechanics and implications for eruption triggering and maximum caldera dimensions on Earth. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 241–242, 1–12 (2012)
Hanchar, J. M. & Watson, E. B. Zircon saturation thermometry. Rev. Mineral. Geochem. 53, 89–112 (2003)
Piwinskii, A. J. & Wyllie, P. J. Experimental studies of igneous rock series. felsic body suite from Needle Point pluton, Wallowa-Batholith, Oregon. J. Geol. 78, 52–76 (1970)
We thank C. Miller for the comments provided on the manuscript. The suggestions of J. Blundy on an early version of this manuscript are appreciated. Discussions with J. Wotzlaw, C. Chelle-Michou and M. Chiaradia helped to structure the study. All authors acknowledge the funding support of the University of Geneva and the Swiss National Science Foundation.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Extended data figures and tables
Extended Data Figure 2 Distribution of temperature after 100 kyr of magma injection in magma bodies emplaced with different modalities.
For all panels the rate of magma injection is 10−2 km3 yr−1, the final volume of injected magma is 500 km3 and the initial wall rock temperature at 10 km is 300 °C. a, Magma is injected at the core. b, Magma is injected in vertically elongated pulses and the magma body grows by lateral displacement of the surrounding crust. c, Sill-like magma batches are stacked vertically and the intrusion grows by displacement of the surrounding crust along the vertical direction.
a, Torres del Paine granites; b, The Coroccohuayco porphyry; c, Oruanui eruption. The range of estimated volume and magma fluxes are highlighted by the shaded areas and plotted in Fig. 4 for comparison with similar magmatic and volcanic systems. The red lines provide independent estimates of magma flux and final volume of the magmatic bodies. Estimates for the average magma flux into the system do not exist for the Oruanui eruption and therefore the vertical lines of the red box were not traced. Data are from refs 9 and 10 for Torres del Paine, ref. 25 for Coroccohuayco and ref. 28 for Oruanui. The insets in the figure show the populations of zircon crystallization times on which the statistical analysis has been performed.
About this article
Cite this article
Caricchi, L., Simpson, G. & Schaltegger, U. Zircons reveal magma fluxes in the Earth’s crust. Nature 511, 457–461 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13532
Scientific Reports (2020)
Nature Communications (2020)
Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology (2020)
Zoning and exsolution in alkali feldspars from Laacher See volcano (Western Germany): constraints on temperature history prior to eruption
Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology (2018)
Nature Geoscience (2017)