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Frontiers in Large Igneous Province research

by Richard E. Ernst, Kenneth L. Buchan, Ian H. Campbell
Lithos ()

Abstract

Earth history is punctuated by events during which large volumes of mafic magmas were generated and emplaced by processes distinct from "normal" seafloor spreading and subduction-related magmatism. Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) of Mesozoic and Cenozoic age are the best preserved, and comprise continental flood basalts, volcanic rifted margins, oceanic plateaus, ocean basin flood basalts, submarine ridges, ocean islands and seamount chains. Paleozoic and Proterozoic LIPs are typically more deeply eroded and are recognized by their exposed plumbing system of giant dyke swarms, sill provinces and layered intrusions. The most promising Archean LIP candidates (apart from the Fortescue and Ventersdorp platformal flood basalts) are those greenstone belts containing tholeiites with minor komatiites. Some LIPs have a substantial component of felsic rocks. Many LIPs can be linked to regional-scale uplift, continental rifting and breakup, climatic shifts that may result in extinction events, and Ni-Cu-PGE (platinum group element) ore deposits. Some current frontiers in LIP research include: (1) Testing various ma ntle plume and alternative hypotheses for the origin for LIPs. (2) Characterizing individual LIPs in terms of (a) ori ginal volume and areal extent of their combined extrusive and intrusive components, (b) melt production rates, (c) plumbing system geometry, (d) nature of the mantle source region, and (e) links with ore deposits. (3) Determining the distribution of LIPs in time (from Archean to Present) and in space (after continental reconstruction). This will allow assessment of proposed links between LIPs and supercontinent breakup, juvenile crust production, climatic excursions, and mass extinctions. It will also allow an evaluation of periodicity in the LIP record, the identification of clusters of LIPs, and postulated links with the reversal frequency of the Earth's magnetic field. (4) Comparin g the characteristics, origin and distribution of LIPs on Earth with planets lacking plate tectonics, such as Venus and Mars. Interplanetary comparison may also provide a better understanding of convective processes in the mantles of the inner planets. In order to a chieve rapid progress in these frontier areas, a global campaign is proposed, which would focus on high-precision geochronology, integrated with paleomagnetism and geochemistry. Most fundamentally, such a campaign could help hasten the determination of continental configurations in the Precambrian back to 2.5 Ga or greater. Such reconstructions are vital for the proper assessment of the LIP record, as well as providing first-order information related to all geodynamic processes. ?? 2004 Published by Elsevier B.V.

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