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Published 1988 | public
Journal Article

Oxygen, hydrogen, and strontium isotope constraints on the origin of granites


Oxygen isotope data are very useful in determining the source rocks of granitic magmas, particularly when used in combination with Sr, Pb, and Nd isotope studies. For example, unusually high δ¹⁸O values in magmas (δ¹⁸O> +8) require the involvement of some precursor parent material that at some time in the past resided on or near the Earth's surface, either as sedimentary rocks or as weathered or hydrothermally altered rocks. The isotopic systematics which are preserved in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic batholiths of western North America can be explained by grand-scale mixing of three broadly defined end-members: (1) oceanic island-arc magmas derived from a "depleted" (MORB-type?) source in the upper mantle (δ¹⁸O c. +6 and ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr c. 0·703); (2) a high-¹⁸O (c. +13 to +17) source with a very uniform ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr (c. 0·708 to 0·712), derived mainly from eugeosynclinal volcanogenic sediments and (or) hydrothermally altered basalts; and (3) a much more heterogeneous source (⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr c. 0·706 to 0·750, or higher) with a high δ¹⁸O (c. +9 to +15) where derived from supracrustal metasedimentary rocks and a much lower δ¹⁸O (c. +7 to +9) where derived from the lower continental crust of the craton. These end-members were successively dominant from W to E, respectively, within three elongate N–S geographic zones that can be mapped from Mexico all the way N to Idaho. ¹⁸O/¹⁶O studies (together with D/H analyses) can, however, play a more important and certainly a unique role in determining the origins of the aqueous fluids involved in the formation of granitic and rhyolitic magmas. Fluid-rock interaction effects are most clear-cut when low-¹⁸O, low-D meteoric waters are involved in the isotopic exchange and melting processes, but the effects of other waters such as seawater (with a relatively high δD c. 0) can also be recognised. Because of these hydrothermal processes, rocks that ultimately undergo partial melting may exhibit isotopic signatures considerably different from those that they started with. We discuss three broad classes of potential source materials of such "hydrothermal-anatectic" granitic magmas, based mainly on water/rock (w/r), temperature (T), and the length of time (t) that fluid-rock interaction proceeds: (Type 1) epizonal systems with a wide variation in whole-rock δ¹⁸O and extreme ¹⁸O/¹⁶O disequilibrium among coexisting minerals (e.g. quartz and feldspar); (Type 2) deeper-seated and (or) longer-lived systems, also with a wide spectrum of whole-rock δ¹⁸O, but with equilibrated ¹⁸O/¹⁶O ratios among coexisting minerals; (Type 3) thoroughly homogenised and equilibrated systems with relatively uniform δ18O in all lithologies. Low-¹⁸O magmas formed by melting of rocks altered in a Type 2 or a Type 3 meteoric-hydrothermal system are the only kinds of "hydrothermal-anatectic" granitic magmas that are readily recognisable in the geological record. Analogous effects produced by other kinds of aqueous fluids may, however, be quite common, particularly in areas of extensional tectonics and large-scale rifting. The greatly enhanced permeabilities in such fractured terranes make possible the deep convective circulation of ground waters and sedimentary pore fluids. The nature and origin of low-¹⁸O magmas in the Yellowstone volcanic field and the Seychelles Islands are briefly reviewed in light of these concepts, as is the development of high-D, peraluminous magmas in the Hercynian of the Pyrenees.

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