Recent crustal foundering in the Northern Volcanic Zone of the Andean arc: Petrological insights from the roots of a modern subduction zone

Elias Bloch, Mauricio Ibañez-Mejia, Kendra Murray, Jeffrey Vervoort, Othmar Müntener

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Periodic loss of the lower lithosphere into the convecting mantle due to gravitational instability is postulated to be a major mechanism for lithosphere recycling in orogenic zones, but unequivocal petrologic evidence of this process is elusive. The Granatifera Tuff, located in the Mercaderes–Rio Mayo area of the southern Colombian Andes, contains a wide variety of crustal and mantle xenoliths. Here we focus on the thermobarometry and Lu–Hf isotope systematics of crustal garnet clinopyroxenite xenoliths, the results of which offer the first evidence of recent, and likely active, crustal foundering in the Northern Volcanic Zone of the Andean arc. We find that most of these xenoliths equilibrated between 60–80 km depths, ∼7–27 km below the seismically determined Moho in this region, and that at least one crustal garnet clinopyroxenite re-equilibrated at depths exceeding 95 km. A second garnet clinopyroxenite equilibrated at ∼150 km depths, and is either foundered lithospheric material or the product of reaction between peridotite and a mobile component (either silicic melt or fluids) at >4 GPa. All of the investigated garnet clinopyroxenites are negatively buoyant relative to the upper mantle asthenosphere. The presence of minor amounts of secondary amphibole and orthopyroxene, coupled with the lack of major-element retrograde zonation in primary phases within these xenoliths, indicates that these rocks were rapidly transported to, and briefly resided at, shallow depths before eruption. Lu–Hf ages from two garnet clinopyroxenites and one garnet–clinopyroxene hornblendite are <5 Ma, and approximate the time at which these xenoliths were transported to shallow depths prior to eruption. A large-magnitude positive geoid anomaly and relatively low mean surface elevations indicate that the gravitationally unstable crustal root is still largely attached to the overriding crust in this part of the Northern Volcanic Zone. Thermobarometric calculations indicate that the lowermost crust in this region is a partial melt zone, and we argue that rheological weakening in the presence of melt has led to the foundering of relatively small parcels of gravitationally unstable crustal material, which the Mercaderes xenoliths document, without catastrophic removal of the crustal root.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-58
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Oct 15 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Andes
  • Lu–Hf
  • Northern Volcanic Zone
  • delamination
  • foundering
  • xenoliths

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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