New insights into crustal contributions to large-volume rhyolite generation in the mid-Tertiary Sierra Madre Occidental province, Mexico, revealed by U-Pb geochronology

Scott E. Bryan, Luca Ferrari, Peter W. Reiners, Charlotte M. Allen, Chiara M. Petrone, Aldo Ramos-rosique, Ian H. Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Voluminous (≥3.9 × 105 km3), prolonged (∼18 Myr) explosive silicic volcanism makes the mid-Tertiary Sierra Madre Occidental province of Mexico one of the largest intact silicic volcanic provinces known. Previous models have proposed an assimilation-fractional crystallization origin for the rhyolites involving closed-system fractional crystallization from crustally contaminated andesitic parental magmas, with <20% crustal contributions. The lack of isotopic variation among the lower crustal xenoliths inferred to represent the crustal contaminants and coeval Sierra Madre Occidental rhyolite and basaltic andesite to andesite volcanic rocks has constrained interpretations for larger crustal contributions. Here, we use zircon age populations as probes to assess crustal involvement in Sierra Madre Occidental silicic magmatism. Laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry analyses of zircons from rhyolitic ignimbrites from the northeastern and southwestern sectors of the province yield U-Pb ages that show significant age discrepancies of 1-4 Myr compared with previously determined K/Ar and 40Ar/39 Ar ages from the same ignimbrites; the age differences are greater than the errors attributable to analytical uncertainty. Zircon xenocrysts with new overgrowths in the Late Eocene to earliest Oligocene rhyolite ignimbrites from the northeastern sector provide direct evidence for some involvement of Proterozoic crustal materials, and, potentially more importantly, the derivation of zircon from Mesozoic and Eocene age, isotopically primitive, subduction-related igneous basement. The youngest rhyolitic ignimbrites from the southwestern sector show even stronger evidence for inheritance in the age spectra, but lack old inherited zircon (i.e. Eocene or older). Instead, these Early Miocene ignimbrites are dominated by antecrystic zircons, representing >33 to ∼100% of the dated population; most antecrysts range in age between ∼20 and 32 Ma. A sub-population of the antecrystic zircons is chemically distinct in terms of their high U (>1000 ppm to 1.3 wt %) and heavy REE contents; these are not present in the Oligocene ignimbrites in the northeastern sector of the Sierra Madre Occidental. The combination of antecryst zircon U-Pb ages and chemistry suggests that much of the zircon in the youngest rhyolites was derived by remelting of partially molten to solidified igneous rocks formed during preceding phases of Sierra Madre Occidental volcanism. Strong Zr undersaturation, and estimations for very rapid dissolution rates of entrained zircons, preclude coeval mafic magmas being parental to the rhyolite magmas by a process of lower crustal assimilation followed by closed-system crystal fractionation as interpreted in previous studies of the Sierra Madre Occidental rhyolites. Mafic magmas were more probably important in providing a long-lived heat and material flux into the crust, resulting in the remelting and recycling of older crust and newly formed igneous materials related to Sierra Madre Occidental magmatism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-77
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Petrology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Antecryst
  • Crustal melting
  • Ignimbrite
  • Rhyolite
  • Sierra Madre Occidental
  • Tertiary
  • U-Pb geochronology
  • Zircon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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