Igneous Layering, Fractional Crystallization and Growth of Granitic Plutons: the Dolbel Batholith in SW Niger

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Abstract

This study reassesses the development of compositional layering during the growth of granitic plutons, with emphasis on fractional crystallization and its interaction with both injection and inflation-related deformation. The Dolbel batholith (SW Niger) consists of 14, kilometre-sized plutons emplaced by pulsed magma inputs. Each pluton has a coarse-grained core and a peripheral layered series. Rocks consist of albite (An≤11), K-feldspar (Or96–99, Ab1–4), quartz, edenite (XMg=0·37–0·55), augite (XMg=0·65–0·72) and accessories (apatite, titanite and Fe–Ti-oxides). Whole-rock compositions are metaluminous, sodic (K2O/Na2O=0·49–0·62) and iron-rich [FeOtot/(FeOtot + MgO)=0·65–0·82]. The layering is present as size-graded and modally graded, sub-vertical, rhythmic units. Each unit is composed of three layers, which are, towards the interior: edenite ± plagioclase (Ca/p), edenite + plagioclase + augite + quartz (Cq), and edenite + plagioclase + augite + quartz + K-feldspar (Ck). All phases except quartz show zoned microstructures consisting of external intercumulus overgrowths, a central section showing oscillatory zoning and, in the case of amphibole and titanite, complexly zoned cores. Ba and Sr contents of feldspars decrease towards the rims. Plagioclase crystal size distributions are similar in all units, suggesting that each unit experienced a similar thermal history. Edenite, characteristic of the basal Ca/p layer, is the earliest phase to crystallize. Microtextures and phase diagrams suggest that edenite cores may have been brought up with magma batches at the site of emplacement and mechanically segregated along the crystallized wall, whereas outer zones of the same crystals formed in situ. The subsequent Cq layers correspond to cotectic compositions in the Qz–Ab–Or phase diagram at PH2O=5 kbar. Each rhythmic unit may therefore correspond to a magma batch and their repetition to crystallization of recurrent magma recharges. Microtextures and chemical variations in major phases allow four main crystallization stages to be distinguished: (1) open-system crystallization in a stirred magma during magma emplacement, involving dissolution and overgrowth (core of edenite and titanite crystals); (2) in situ fractional crystallization in boundary layers (Ca/p and Cq layers); (3) equilibrium ‘en masse’ eutectic crystallization (Ck layers); (4) compaction and crystallization of the interstitial liquid in a highly crystallized mush (e.g. feldspar intercumulus overgrowths). It is concluded that the formation of the layered series in the Dolbel plutons corresponds principally to in situ differentiation of successive magma batches. The variable thickness of the Ck layers and the microtextures show that crystallization of a rhythmic unit stops and it is compacted when a new magma batch is injected into the chamber. Therefore, assembly of pulsed magma injections and fractional crystallization are independent, but complementary, processes during pluton construction.

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