Fred’s Flow (Canada) and Murphy Well (Australia): thick komatiitic lava flows with contrasting compositions, emplacement mechanisms and water contents

Coralie Siégel, Nicholas Arndt, Stephen Barnes, Anne Laure Henriot, Pierre Haenecour, Vinciane Debaille, Nadine Mattielli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Two Archaean komatiitic flows, Fred’s Flow in Canada and the Murphy Well Flow in Australia, have similar thicknesses (120 and 160 m) but very different compositions and internal structures. Their contrasting differentiation profiles are keys to determine the cooling and crystallization mechanisms that operated during the eruption of Archaean ultramafic lavas. Fred’s Flow is the type example of a thick komatiitic basalt flow. It is strongly differentiated and consists of a succession of layers with contrasting textures and compositions. The layering is readily explained by the accumulation of olivine and pyroxene in a lower cumulate layer and by evolution of the liquid composition during downward growth of spinifex-textured rocks within the upper crust. The magmas that erupted to form Fred’s Flow had variable compositions, ranging from 12 to 20 wt% MgO, and phenocryst contents from 0 to 20 vol%. The flow was emplaced by two pulses. A first ~20-m-thick pulse was followed by another more voluminous but less magnesian pulse that inflated the flow to its present 120 m thickness. Following the second pulse, the flow crystallized in a closed system and differentiated into cumulates containing 30–38 wt% MgO and a residual gabbroic layer with only 6 wt% MgO. The Murphy Well Flow, in contrast, has a remarkably uniform composition throughout. It comprises a 20-m-thick upper layer of fine-grained dendritic olivine and 2–5 vol% amygdales, a 110–120 m intermediate layer of olivine porphyry and a 20–30 m basal layer of olivine orthocumulate. Throughout the flow, MgO contents vary little, from only 30 to 33 wt%, except for the slightly more magnesian basal layer (38–40 wt%). The uniform composition of the flow and dendritic olivine habits in the upper 20 m point to rapid cooling of a highly magnesian liquid with a composition like that of the bulk of the flow. Under equilibrium conditions, this liquid should have crystallized olivine with the composition Fo94.9, but the most magnesian composition measured by electron microprobe in samples from the flow is Fo92.9. To explain these features, we propose that the parental liquid contained around 32 wt% MgO and 3 wt% H2O. This liquid degassed during the eruption, creating a supercooled liquid that solidified quickly and crystallized olivine with non-equilibrium textures and compositions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1084
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalContributions to Mineralogy and Petrology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 23 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Archaean
  • Degassing
  • Fred’s flow
  • Komatiite
  • Murphy well
  • Quench olivine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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