May 2010 LIP of the Month

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The 2.7 Ga Kambalda Sequence LIP, Western Australia: Mantle Source, Crustal Contamination, Crustal Recycling, Mantle Lithosphere, and Geodynamic Setting

Nuru Saida,  Robert Kerrichb

 a Centre for Exploration Targeting, School of Earth and Environment, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Nedlands, WA 6009;

b  Department of Geological Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK., Canada S7N 5E2

1.  Kambalda LIP issues

Several large igneous provinces (LIP’s) are present in the Archean of Western Australia: the ~ 2.8 -2.7 Ga Fortescue group of continental flood basalt provinces of the Pilbara craton, and ~ 2.7 Ga komatiite-basalt sequences in Neoarchean greenstone terranes of the Yilgarn craton (events 217, 225, 231, 233, & 221 in Ernst and Buchan 2001; Said and Kerrich, 2010, and references therein). The Kambalda Sequence of the Kalgoorlie Terrane is one expression of the latter. We use combined elemental and isotopic data to resolve multiple issues regarding this 2.7 Ga LIP including: (1) the nature of the mantle source, (2) the extent of crustal contamination during eruption, (3) whether there is evidence for recycling of ancient continental crust and /or eclogite,  into the mantle source of the plume,  (4) whether the continental mantle lithosphere contributed liquids to the volcanic sequence as well as the asthenosphere plume, and (5) the geodynamic setting of eruption

2. Regional Geology

The Neoarchean (2800 to 2600 Ma) Eastern Goldfields Superterrane (EGST) forms the easternmost portion of the Yilgarn Craton (Myers, 1997; Barley et al., 2003, 2008; Krapez, 2006). This Superterrane comprises elongated, narrow to arcuate greenstone belts, composed of deformed and metamorphosed volcanic and sedimentary rocks, intruded by numerous granitoids and high-level intermediate to silicic porphyries. According to Barley et al. (1998, 2002, 2003) and Krapez (2006), the Eastern Goldfields Superterrane represents a collage of at least five distinct tectonostratigraphic terranes assembled between 2720 Ma and 2660 Ma. From west to east, these are the Kalgoorlie, Gindalbie, Kurnalpi, Laverton and Duketon Terranes (Fig. 1). Each terrane has distinctive volcanic facies and geochemistry, but with broadly similar styles of deformation, synorogenic sedimentary sequences, and granitoid emplacement histories (Fig. 1; Table 1).

Figure 1: Tectonostratigraphic terranes and domains of the Eastern Goldfield Superterrane. Samples of the Upper Basalt Unit for this study were collected from the Coolgardie, Ora Banda, and Kambalda Domains, of the Kalgoorlie Terrane, where this unit is best developed, within the red rectangle. Bold blue lines delimit boundaries of the Kalgoorlie Terrane Modified from Krapez (2006).  The earlier, 2702 Ma, phase of the Black Flag Group (BFG) is coeval with volcanism of the Upper Basalt Unit in the Boorara Domain, shown by arrow from BFG to outcrop in orange, and orange sector in Boorara index, keyed to figure 2 (Modified from Barley et al., 2002; Kositcin et al., 2008).

Table 1. Geological characteristics of tectonostratigraphic terranes of the Eastern Goldfields Superterrane, Yilgarn Craton.

Terrane Age (Ma) Major rock type Metamorphic grade Major structural grain References
Kalgoorlie 2707-2666 tholeiitic and komatiitic successions greenschist to upper amphibolites NNW-SSE 1,2,3,4,6 and 7
Gindalbie 2694-2676 bimodal  HFSE-enriched rhyolite-basalt, and intermediate to felsic calc-alkaline complexes mainly lower to middle greenschist, locally upper greenschist to lower amphibolite NNW-SSE 3,4,5 and 7
Kurnalpi 2715-2704 intermediate calc-alkaline complexes and minor tholeiitic and komatiitic basalts lower greenschist to lower amphibolite NNW-SSE 3,4,5 and 7
Laverton 2808 tholeiitic and komatiitic successions upper greenschist to lower amphibolite NNW-SSE 3,4, and 7
Duketon 2805 intermediate and felsic calc-alkaline volcanic rocks and associated mafic (and minor ultramafic) rocks middle to upper amphibolite NNW-SSE 3,4, and 7

1. Barley et al. (2002); 2. Barley et al. (2003); 3. Barley et al. (2008); 4. Binns et al. (1976); 5. Kositcin et al. (2008); 6. Krapez  (2006); 7. Swager (1997).

The Kalgoorlie Terrane is characterised by 2720 to 2680 Ma mafic-ultramafic volcanic successions erupted in a marine environment, collectively referred to as the Kambalda Sequence  which is interlayered with, and overlain by, 2710 to 2660 Ma dominantly trondhjemite-tonalite-dacite (TTD) dacitic volcaniclastic rocks of the Black Flag Group. The Kambalda Sequence comprises, in stratigraphic order, the Lower Basalt unit, the Komatiite unit, and the Upper Basalt unit (Fig. 2). The adjacent Gindalbie and Kurnalpi terranes are characterised by 2720 to 2680 Ma calc-alkaline volcanic successions representing intra-oceanic island arcs. The Kalgoorlie Terrane, interpreted as plume-derived (Said, 2009), was subsequently tectonically juxtaposed with the adjacent arc-like eastern terranes at approximately 2660 Ma, at the start of a Cordilleran-style orogeny to form the EGST (Figs. 1, 2).

Figure 2: (A) Schematic stratigraphic section of the Kalgoorlie Terrane, highlighting the main volcano-sedimentary sequences. (B) Detail of basalt suites or formations in the Upper Basalt Unit, and the domains where they were sampled indicated by an asterisks. Modified from Swager (1997) and Krapez (2006). The thickness of the basalt units shown is only schematic stratigraphic thicknesses.  The main body of the 2664 Ma Black Flag Group outcrops in all domains, and overlies the Upper Basalt Unit. However, in the Boora Domain an earlier, 2702 Ma, eruption of Black Flag Group is coeval with volcanism of the Upper Basalt Unit, and bracketed by the ages given for volcanism, as indicated by the detail linked to A, keyed in turn to BFG in figure 1  (Stratigraphic section modified from Barley et al., 2002, 2003; Krapez et al., 2000; Trofimnovs et al., 2004;. Ages from Krapez et al., 2000; Kositcin et al., 2008)

3. Issues to Resolve

3.1 Mantle Source and Crustal Contamination

Some basalt suites, such as the Victorious Basalt, record depletion of light rare earth elements (LREE) in conjunction with positive Nb anomalies (Nb/Th>8), whereas others show LREE enrichment with negative anomalies at Nb (Nb/Th<8) and Ti. The former is consistent with liquids derived from a mantle plume sourced in depleted asthenosphere, whereas the latter are crustally contaminated equivalents (Fig. 3).  There is an overall trend up the stratigraphic section from depleted mantle trace element and Nd-isotope signatures to progressive crustal assimilation (Fig. 4B; Lesher and Arndt, 1995), with antivariant trends of Nb/Th and εNd as expected for crustal assimilation (Fig. 4D).

Figure 3: Representative chondrite normalised REE and primitive mantle-normalised multi-element diagrams for all the Upper Basalt suites in the Kalgoorlie Terrane. Panels arranged in ascending stratigraphic order as in figure 2. Normalising values from Sun and McDonough (1989).   Coolgardie KB is Coolgardie komatiitic-basalt.

Figure 4: Variations of 147Sm/144Ndversus 143Nd/144Ndand age versus εNd (A-B),  εNd versus (La/Sm)N and Nb/Th (C-D), Nb/Th versus (La/Sm)N and (Zr/Nb)N (E-F), for all the Upper Basalt suites. Chondritic undepleted reservoir (CHUR), 147Sm/144Nd=0.1967,143Nd/144Nd=0.512638; and Depleted mantle (DM), 147Sm/144Nd= 0.2135, 143Nd/144Nd=0.513151 from Jacobsen and Wasserburg (1980). Data for Black Flag Group and high-Ca granitoids from Barley et al. (2003), for Paringa Basalts from Said and Kerrich (2009), and for Lower Unit basalts (Fig. 2) from Said and Kerrich (2010). On panel A the black line is a 2700 Ma reference isochron. In the inset of panel B, the inclined bar is the range of data for basalts and komatiites schematically indicating progressive crustal contamination of the ultramafic-mafic volcanics up stratigraphy in the Kambalda Sequence as documented by Lesher and Arndt (1995)  and Bateman et al. (2001). The earlier eruption of the BFG (Barley et al., 2003), the Lower Basalt Unit (Said and Kerrich (2010), Paringa Basalts of the Upper Basalt Unit (Said et al., 2009), and new data of this study, keyed to the age span of figure 2, are also shown as an inclined array. Dashed lines in (C-H) are primitive mantle ratios from Sun and McDonough (1989).

3.2  Eclogite component in the plume

Crustally uncontaminated samples have Nb/Th ratios greater than 8 indicative of a peridotitic mantle plume with eclogite streaks. During processing of oceanic lithosphere through a convergent margin Nb behaves conservatively in basaltic crust of the ocean lithosphere whereas Th and LREE are released in aqueous fluids to the sub-arc peridotite wedge, which melts to generate arc magmas characterized by negative Nb anomalies. Residual ocean crust inherits a complementary positive Nb anomaly.

There are two important implications to the positive Nb anomalies in uncontaminated Kambalda Sequence lavas. First, ~ 15% eclogite in a peridotite plume lowers the melting point and increases the volume of erupted magmas compared to a pure peridotite plume (Cordery et al., 1997).  Second, these anomalies confer indirect evidence that 100’s Ma prior to eruption of the Kambalda Sequence there were ocean spreading centres, convergent margin arcs, and recycling of ocean lithosphere back into the mantle; i.e., plate tectonics was active in the Mesoarchean (Kerrich and Polat, 2006).

3.3. Recycling of ancient crust

The enriched Paringa Basalt, characterized by LREE enrichment with negative anomalies at Nb and Ti, was initially interpreted by Barley (1986) as a crustally contaminated ultramafic unit.  Inspection of Figure 4 reveals that it plots to much greater (La/Sm)N than other contaminated basalt suites. More significantly, it plots to a large range of (La/Sm)N over a narrow span of Nb/Th in contrast to contaminated suites which define a diagonal trend on Figure 4E. Further lines of evidence against crustal assimilation for the enriched Paringa Basalt are:

  1. absence of evidence for upper crustal granitoids with strong negative εNd isotope signatures in the Eastern Goldfields Superterrane (Fig. 4). Regional granitoid Nd-isotopic data show that most of the granitoids have εNd values (≥0), distinctly above the trend defined by the Paringa Basalt (εNd ≤-1.7; Fig. 4). The granitoids have overall isotopic and geochemical characteristics consistent with their derivation from depleted mantle sources;
  2. coherence of Paringa Basalt trace element patterns and isotopic signatures, over a range of Mg# and REE abundances, which is not expected for progressive assimilation fractional crystallisation (AFC). For example, Nb/Th, P/Nd, and Ti/Sm anomalies do not increase systematically with increasing Th or LREE as expected for crustal assimilation (Said and Kerrich, 2009);
  3. the Black Flag Group (BFG) TTD dacites, which are presumably derived from continental crust beneath the Archean Kalgoorlie Terrane, or melts of such crust, have εNd ≥0, and hence the BFG cannot be a realistic contaminant (Fig. 4);
  4. assimilation of Archean upper continental crust (AUCC) cannot reproduce the compositional spectrum of the Paringa Basalts, and there are no known lithological units compositionally akin to AUCC in the Kalgoorlie Terrane;
  5. recent precise U-Pb zircon dating (e.g. Nelson, 1997; Kosticin et al., 2008) has shown that the Paringa Basalt is younger than the Kambalda Komatiite and/or Devon Consols komatiitic-basalt by at least 10 Ma. In addition, it is remarkable that the Paringa Basalt is only known from the Kambalda Domain and no equivalent unit is identified in any other domain of the Kalgoorlie Terrane. Combined with depositional age differences, these factors rule out a direct genetic connection with the underlying komatiite and/or Devon Consol komatiitic basalt, or their crustally contaminated members;
  6. the Zr/Nb (18-21, 1 outlier) and (La/Sm)N (2.2-3.1) ratios are relatively uniform over a range of Mg# from 76 to 53 and La from 4.8-11.5 ppm which is not expected for progressive AFC of  komatiite liquids; and  
  7. enriched Paringa basalts do not have the pronounced positive Zr-Hf/MREE anomalies of other crustally contaminated basalts of the Kambalda Sequence (Fig. 3; Said, 2009).

3.4. Lithospheric Mantle Source?

Mantle plumes that erupt through continental lithosphere typically include liquids derived from plume induced melting of continental lithospheric mantle. They are generally Ti rich with fractionated HREEs stemming from melting within the garnet stability field at > 90 km (Lassiter and DePaolo, 1997). Basalt suites of the Kambalda Sequence are low Ti basalts compositionally similar to Phanerozoic ocean plateau basalts (Kerr, 2003), yet some suites are crustally contaminated.  On Figure 5 the trend from uncontaminated plume asthenosphere melts to crustally contaminated counterparts is evident. However, some contribution from melts of mantle lithosphere cannot be ruled out.

Figure 5: Plot of La/Sm vs. La/Ta to distinguish contamination of plume asthenosphere by continental crust versus continental lithospheric mantle. GP-field of Gudchikhinsky picrites, N-Nadezhdinsky lavas, TP-Tuklonsky picrites, UN-upper Noril’sk lavas of the Siberian Traps. KP-Karoo picrites. After Lassiter and DePaolo (1997).  UC, LC- upper continental crust and lower continental crust, respectively, from Taylor and McLennan (1985).

3.5. Summary of Plume Components

The Kambalda Sequence volcanics retain a rich record of geological processes.  The prime agent of the Kambalda LIP was a peridotite-dominant asthenosphere plume sourced in the deep mantle and depleted by prior melt extraction. Recycled into this mantle source was both ocean crust processed through an earlier convergent margin (eclogite), and ancient continental crust likely recycled into the mantle by subduction-erosion.  This compositionally and isotopically heterogeneous mantle plume melted at the base of the Yilgarn continental lithosphere, mostly at <90 km, and erupted uncontaminated at the base of the sequence with progressively greater crustal assimilation up the stratigraphic section.

4. Geodynamic setting

The nature of Archean geodynamic processes is a subject of major debate, specifically whether plate-tectonics in modified form, plume tectonics, some combination, or alternatively distinctive Archean tectonics, was prevalent (Fyfe, 1978; Polat et al., 1998; Wyman, 1999, 2003; Polat and Kerrich, 2000, 2001a,b; Barley et al., 2002, 2003; Hamilton, 2003; Kerrich and Polat, 2006). In this context, a number of contrasting geodynamic models have been proposed for the Eastern Goldfields Superterrane including: 

  1. mantle plume tectonics related to thermal upwelling in the mantle beneath the lithosphere (Campbell and Hill, 1988);
  2. partial melting of the mantle in extensional settings such as intracratonic rifting that involves lithospheric extension initiated by a thermal anomaly in the mantle (Archibald et al., 1978, 1981; Groves and Batt, 1984; Hallberg, 1986; Hammond and Nesbit, 1992, 1993; Williams and Whitaker, 1993; Williams 1993; Passchier 1995); and
  3. convergent plate margin (subduction-related) tectonic settings involving magmatism in an arc and related extensional basin settings based on comparisons with well-documented Phanerozoic convergent margins (Barley and McNaughton, 1988; Barley et al., 1989, 1993; Eisenlohr et al., 1989; Swager et al., 1992; Morris, 1993; Swager, 1997; Krapez et al., 2000; Krapez, 2006; Blewett and Czarnota, 2007).

The Kalgoorlie volcanic sequence differs from the magmatic association and compositional characteristics of inferred Archean supra-subduction zone ophiolites. For example, the 3.0 Ga Ivisaartoq greenstone belt of SW Greenland preserves a lithological association of pillow lavas, volcanic breccias, clinopyroxene cumulates, gabbros, and diorite sills all with the conjunction of LREE-enrichment with normalized anomalies at Nb-Ta, P, and Ti, interpreted as a suprasubduction zone ophiolite (Polat et al., 2009). Accordingly, the back-arc model for the Kambalda Terrane (Barley and McNaughton, 1988; Barley et al., 1989, 2003) can be ruled out.

The Kalgoorlie volcanic sequence also differs in magmatic association and composition from inferred Archean plume-arc interactions. The 2.7 Ga Kidd-Munro volcanic sequence, Abitibi greenstone belt, preserves two volcanic associations:  komatiite - tholeiitic basalt-, and boninitie - tholeiitic to calc alkaline basalt volcanic flows. The former association has the compositional characteristics of oceanic plateau, whereas the latter are comparable to the spectrum of arc basalt compositions. Komatiite-basalts have (La/Sm)N<1 with Nb/Th>8, whereas the latter are characterized by the combination of variable LREE-enrichment with negative anomalies at Nb-Ta, P, and Ti (Wyman et al., 1999; Wyman and Kerrich, 2009). Similar magmatic-compositional associations are preserved in 3.0-2.9 Ga greenstone belts of the Uchi Subprovince, Canada (Hollings et al., 1999).  In addition, basalt suites include uncontaminated as well as contaminated equivalents (e.g. Big Dick Suite, Figs. 3, 4), unlike the plume-arc associations.  Consequently, development of a convergent margin at a craton boundary can also be ruled out.

The sum of field, trace element, and isotopic evidence supports a variant on the first two models.  Plumes cannot melt under typical ~ 200 km thick Archean continental lithosphere, but rather are “steered” to thinner sectors or rifted margins where decompressional melting occurs at ~ 100 km (Fig. 6; Sleep, 2002, 2006; Kerrich et al., 2005).  Plume liquids then undergo varied degrees of AFC (assimilation fractional crystallization) within the crustal and/or mantle sectors. As a corollary, the volcanic-compositional association, as well as the presence of Al- and HREE-depleted dike suites (McCuaig et al. 1994), rules out oceanic lithospheric mantle or a convergent margin.  The generally flat HREE, signifying melting above ~100 km, combined with signatures of crustal contamination, is also consistent with a rifted continental margin setting where continental fragments were rafted into a spreading ocean, as in the case of the Cameroon Volcanic Line. Eruption at a rifted craton margin accommodates the geological observations of volcanic deposition within rift basins, as well as submarine eruption, with both uncontaminated basalt suites and contaminated counterparts.

Figure 6: Model of a mantle plume interacting with continental lithospheric mantle, depicting a summary of the processes responsible for the generation of mafic volcanic and intrusive rocks of the Kalgoorlie Terrane. The model illustrates that  the mantle plume impinged at the base of thick cratonic lithosphere and deflected away to areas of thinner lithosphere at rifted margins of craton, where melting may occur due to decompression. Plume magmas erupted through or/and at a cratonic margin of varied thickness; the variations in HREE of figure six likely correspond to these variations in thickness of the lithospheric ‘lid’. AC=arc crust, ALM=arc lithospheric mantle, ASLM=asthenospheric lower mantle; ASUM=asthenospheric upper mantle, CC=continental crust, CLM=continental lithospheric mantle, K=komatiite, KB=komatiitic basalt, MW=mantle wedge, OC=oceanic crust, OLM= oceanic lithospheric mantle, TB=tholeiitic basalt, TLM=transitional lithospheric mantle, YT=Youanmi Terrane; KaT=Kalgoorlie Terrane,  ET=Eastern Terrane.

The spectrum of compositions from komatiites to tholeiitic basalts likely reflects a zoned mantle plume as in the model of Campbell et al. (1989); high-Mg lavas record the anomalously hot plume axis, whereas basalts are produced by melting of ambient mantle entrained in the plume annulus. For the Kambalda Sequence, the presence of crust recycled into the mantle source of the Enriched Paringa Basalt (Said and Kerrich, 2009), contrasts both with uncontaminated and crustally contaminated volcanic suites (Lesher and Arndt, 1995; Said et al., 2010; this study) and is independently consistent with a heterogeneous mantle plume.


We thank Richard Ernst for the invitation to contribute to this “LIP of the Month” series.  This contribution stems from a series of papers that flowed from Nuru Said’s PhD project, funded by a University of Western Australia postgraduate scholarship.


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