The Magmatic Evolution of the Whakamaru Supereruption, New Zealand, Constrained by a Microanalytical Study of Plagioclase and Quartz

K. E. Saunders, D. J. Morgan, J. A. Baker, R. J. Wysoczanski

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The Whakamaru eruption is the largest-volume eruption known to have originated from the hyper-productive Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand. Major, minor and trace element concentrations of plagioclase crystals and cathodoluminescence images, used as a proxy for Ti concentrations in quartz crystals, have been used to explore their chemical zonation. Three plagioclase populations are identified. Group 1 crystals are characterized by inherited cores of composition An45–60, Ba 115–650 ppm and La 3–9 ppm, rims of c. An30, Ba 450–800 ppm and La 7–10 ppm and the presence of a thin overgrowth rim on several crystals cores. Group 2 crystals are oscillatory-zoned plagioclases of composition An30–40, Ba 450–730 ppm and La 8·5–9·5 ppm. Group 3 plagioclase crystals have cores of An25–35 and rims of An20–25 and low Sr contents (280–480 ppm). From the chemical composition of these plagioclase crystals, four physicochemically distinct rhyolitic melts are identified: (1) an andesitic progenitor melt in which the cores of Group 1 crystals crystallized; (2) a greywacke melt or greywacke protolith melt responsible for narrow overgrowth rims on Group 1 crystal cores; (3) melt derived from the rejuvenation of a mature crystal mush body from which Group 3 plagioclase crystals crystallized; (4) a final, rhyolitic melt created by the amalgamation of varying proportions of the andesitic, greywacke-derived and rejuvenated melts with subsequent, open-system fractional crystallization of a plagioclase-dominant crystal assemblage. Cathodoluminescence imaging of quartz crystals reveals complex zonation, the result of a dynamic crystallization history from potentially polygenetic sources. Diffusion modelling of the greyscale intensity of cathodoluminescence images (as a proxy for Ti content) for a selection of bright core–rim interfaces of quartz crystals suggests that renewed quartz growth at the rim zones occurred <300 years (peak likelihood 50–70 years) prior to and continued towards the climactic eruption. This is consistent with timescales of <280 years determined from core–rim interfaces of Group 1 plagioclase crystals, suggesting that the magma chamber was ephemeral, derived from mixing of magmas from multiple sources shortly prior to eruption. This study adds to a growing body of evidence for the ephemeral nature and geologically rapid mixing and mobilization of liquid silicic magma bodies leading to supereruptions, compared with the timescales of hundreds of thousands of years required to accumulate the precursor magma and crystals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2465-2488
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Petrology
Issue number12
Early online date23 Nov 2010
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2010


  • diffusion
  • plagioclase
  • quartz
  • Whakamaru ignimbrite
  • timescale


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