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Zircons reveal magma fluxes in the Earth’s crust

Abstract

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.

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Figure 1: Time evolution of maximum, average and minimum temperature, along with the number of newly crystallized zircons for different magma fluxes and final volume of accumulated magma.
Figure 2: Map of selected models performed in the magma flux versus final injected volume space.
Figure 3: Contours of mode, median and standard deviation for zircon crystallization time spectra, calculated from the numerical modelling.
Figure 4: Results of the inversion of natural populations of zircon ages.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Contributions

L.C. structured the study, took the lead on writing the manuscript, performed the statistical analysis of the data, and collected literature data. G.S. performed the numerical modelling and analysed the results. U.S. focused on the zircon geochronology. All authors jointly contributed to the final version of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Luca Caricchi.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Distributions of zircon crystallization times.

a, The Lago della Vacca pluton7,8 (in Italy); b, Fish Canyon Tuff eruption26 (in USA); c, Oruanui eruptions28 (in New Zealand). The zircon crystallization times are calculated by subtracting each zircon age from the age of the oldest zircon of the population.

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.

Extended Data Figure 3 Results obtained by the inversion of zircon populations.

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.

Extended Data Figure 4 Variation of crystal fraction as a function of temperature.

The curve is calculated using equation (1), which provides the best fit to the data of ref. 32 collected at a confining pressure of 200 MPa and water-saturated conditions. The temperatures at which different phases appear in the crystallizing assemblage are from ref. 16.

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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

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