July 2013 LIP of the Month

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Global intracratonic boninitic-norite magmatism during the Neoarchean-Paleoproterozoic – revisited

Rajesh K. Srivastava1 & Richard E. Ernst2

1Centre of Advanced Study, Department of Geology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi 221 005, India
(e-mail: rajeshgeolbhu@gmail.com)

2Department of Earth Sciences, Carleton University, Ottawa, K1S 5B6, and Ernst Geosciences 43 Margrave Ave., Ottawa K1T 3Y2, Canada

Extracted and modified from Srivastava (2006, 2008)


Boninitic-noritic (BN) magmatism is a common feature during the Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic and has occurred in a number of Archean cratons of the globe. This magmatism chiefly occurs as intrusions (dykes and layered intrusions), which are typically emplaced in intracratonic settings, and have been considered as part of the plumbing system of Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs). Related volcanic rocks, SHMB (siliceous high magnesium basalts) also occur in the Neoarchean.  The BN suite of rocks are contain high Si (>52 wt%), high Mg (>8 wt%), and low Ti (mostly <0.5 wt%), and are inferred to be derived from melting of a refractory mantle. For similar boninitic (sensu stricto) magmatism (mainly from the Phanerozoic) the refractory mantle is melted due to metasomatism above a subduction zone. However, the timing of BN magmatism (mainly during a period from Neoarchean to Paleoproterozoic) is linked to cratonization which was associated with crustal thickening at the end of Archean. Prior to cratonization, extensive extraction of mafic magma (forming the widespread late Archean greenstone belts) developed a complementary refractory mantle forming the lithospheric root which was metasomatised by subduction associated with the assembly at ca. 2.7 Ga of many Archean cratons. Finally, partial melting of metasomatised refractory mantle due to the arrival of numerous discrete mantle plumes produced boninite-type melts during Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic time. It is inferred that the geochemical compositions of boninitic (high-Ca derivative) and noritic (low-Ca derivative) end members suggest a co-magmatic relationship through a high-magnesium boninite-type melt derived from a highly refractory mantle. Low-Ca variety (norite) is a differentiated product of the high-Ca variety and, therefore, contains slightly enriched geochemical composition. Emplacement of BN suites is linked to LIP events associated with the breakup of Archean continents.

Introduction and Classification of High-Mg (Boninitic-Noritic) Mafic Igneous Rocks

There is a strong secular change in high-magnesium (high-Mg) mafic magmatism and tectonic setting over time as earlier noted by Hall and Hughes (1990b, 1993) (Fig. 1). For example – (1) komatiitic-series rocks are reported from many Archean greenstone belts and inferred to be mostly derived from arrival of a mantle plume (e.g., Arndt and Nisbet, 1982; Asahara and Ohtani, 2001; Arndt et al., 2008), however a subduction origin is also argued (e.g., Brooks and Hart 1972, 1974; Wilson and Versfeld, 1994; Parman and Grove, 2005), (2) BN rocks (also termed high-Mg norites) and their extrusive volcanic equivalent SHMB are reported from Neoarchean to Paleoproterozoic and emplaced mostly in intracratonic rift or plume settings (Halls and Hughes, 1990a, b, 1993; Barnes et al., 2012; Smithies, 2002; Smithies et al., 2004; Srivastava, 2006, 2008) and are linked to LIPs (e.g.,  Hall and Hughes 1993; Cadman et al. 1997; Ernst and Buchan, 2001), and (3) boninite/boninite-like rocks are mostly reported from the Phanerozoic and confined to convergent margin settings (Crawford et al., 1989; Tatsumi and Maruyama, 1989; Kim and Jacobi, 2002; Smithes et al., 2004). High-Mg andesites are also associated with convergent margin settings (Kelemen, 1995; Tatsumi et al., 2003; Tatsumi, 2006). Many have proposed that boninites and the geochemically similar high-Mg andesites also have similar nature and subduction genesis (e.g. Kim and Jacobi, 2002).

Herein focus is given to the latter two types: BN (high-Mg norites)/SHMB and boninite/boninite-like rocks. In terms of geochemistry, boninites, BN and SHMB have broadly similar geochemical compositions; all contain high-magnesium (MgO>8%), high-silica (SiO2>52%) and low-titanium (TiO2<0.5%) and these three types are not distinguished by standard chemical classification schemes. According to the IUGS classification scheme (Le Bas, 2000; Le Maitre, 2002), igneous rocks with MgO >12%, SiO2 between 30 and 52% and Na2O+K2O <3% are classified as boninite, picrite or komatiite on the basis of differences in these oxides and TiO2; boninites have MgO >8%, SiO2 >52% and TiO2 <0.5%, whereas basalts have MgO >12%, SiO2 between 30 and 52% and Na2O+K2O <3% without any consideration of TiO2. On the other hand, komatiite/meimechites have MgO >18%, SiO2 between 30 and 52% and Na2O+K2O <2%; if TiO2 is < 1%, it is regarded as komatiite, and if TiO2 > 1%, it is meimechite. This IUGS scheme does not include either high-Mg andesite or SHMB or high-Mg norite. Therefore, to classify these types, additional parameters must be used; see Table 1 for more details. For example, the high-Mg andesite has higher values of TiO2 and Zr and lower Al2O3/TiO2 ratio than the boninite. Furthermore, the Al2O3/CaO ratio is also used to classify high-Mg mafic igneous rocks into high-Ca and low-Ca (Type 3) boninites (Crawford et al., 1989); high-Ca boninites show typical boninitic geochemical characteristics, whereas low-Ca variety shows geochemical characteristics similar to BN magmatism (high-Mg norites). Siliceous high-magnesium basalts (SHMB) show similar geochemical properties to BN magmatism.

It is believed that some SHMB may also be a volcanic equivalent of BN rocks (Sun et al., 1989; Hall and Hughes, 1990b). Most SHMBs are Precambrian in age, however recently a Permian SHMB is also reported from the Xinjiang, NW China which is derived from hydrous and depleted mantle source (Gao and Zhou, 2013). Various constraints on the origin of SHMB have been proposed (Sun et al., 1989) and different SHMB may have different origins. Models for origin include:  (1) that they are the Archean equivalent of modern boninites and form in an Archean subduction setting, (2) that they are derived from metasomatised refractory mantle sources (Sun and Nesbit, 1978), or (3) that they are derived through assimilation-fractional crystallization (AFC) processes of a parental komatiite magma (e.g., Arndt and Jenner, 1986; Arndt et al., 1987; Sun et al., 1989; Barnes et al., 2012).

            Smithies et al. (2004) have discussed, in length, about the petrogenesis of Archean BN suites in space and time and classified them into two types – Whundo and Whitney. They further suggested that petrogenesis of the Whundo-type boninite is similar to that of modern boninites (i.e. subduction related) and these may be considered the closest Archean analogues of modern boninites, whereas the Whitney-type ‘boninites’ have a wide range of conditions and components and derived from an extremely depleted garnet-rich source. The Whiney-type boninitic magma may be generated by plume-induced melting of (subduction modified?) refractory mantle.

We further consider the origin of the Neoarchean and Palaeoproterozoic BN suite rocks, and note their global distribution and characteristic emplacement in an intracratonic rift or hotspot (plume) setting and derived from a metasomatized refractory mantle (Hall and Hughes, 1987; 1990b; Kuehner, 1989; Srivastava, 2006, 2008).

Worldwide Occurrences of Boninite-Norite Mafic Rocks and Possible Genesis

The global distribution of intracratonic Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic boninite-norite (BN) suites from different terrains is shown in Figure 2, and details are summarized in Table 2.  BN suites are well documented from southern West Greenland, East Antarctica, Labrador, Wyoming, the southern São Francisco craton (Brazil), Scourie (northwest Scotland), the eastern Fennoscandian shield and the southern Bastar craton (central India), in addition to many layered complexes, such as Stillwater, Bushveld, Jimberlana, examples from northern Finland, and the Great Dyke of Zimbabwe. Average geochemical composition (see Table 3) of most of these BN suite of rocks are very similar and exhibit comparable multi-element trends (Fig. 3) suggesting their origin through some common mechanism (Srivastava, 2008) as discussed above. Low concentrations of high-field strength elements in these rocks probably indicate a high degree of mantle partial melting.

From the Table 2 and Figure 1 it can be clearly suggested that BN suite of rocks are emplaced during a very restricted period of time, i.e. ~ 2.5–2.1 Ga (Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic), and represent a considerable volume of mafic magmatism (Hall and Hughes, 1990b). Importantly, most of these BN suites occur as plutonic or hypabyssal intrusions and are not associated with Archean komatiite magmatism (Hall et al., 1987; Hall and Hughes, 1990b). Hall and Hughes (1990b, 1993) observed that there is a clear anomaly in the nature of mafic magmatic assemblages formed during the Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic that suggests considerable changes in mafic magmatic style from that in the earlier Archean.. Their model (Figure 1) clearly suggests the end of komatiite magmatism toward the end of the Neoarchean and an immediate switch to (boninite-) norite magmatism. They propose that this change is a consequence of crustal thickening, which promoted the partial melting of a refractory mantle that was replenished during metasomatism by LILE- and LREE-enriched hydrous fluids at the end of the Archean. The voluminous outpouring of mafic magma prior to global BN magmatism is thought to be principal reason for developing a refractory mantle (Sun et al., 1989; Hall and Hughes, 1990b, 1993; Smithies, 2002; Srivastava, 2006; Chalapathi Rao and Srivastava, 2009). Widespread crustal thickening and growth and stabilization of cratonic lithosphere at the end of Archean are supported by substantial geological and isotopic evidence (Veizer and Jansen, 1979; McLennan and Taylor, 1982; Hall and Hughes, 1990b, 1993). The presence of BN suites in a very restricted period of time (Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic) suggest that probably during this period crust was sufficiently stable to accommodate such large-scale intrusions and high-Mg norites (BN suite) were produced by the melting of the refractory mantle.

Figure 1: Relative rates of production of basalts, komatiites, norites and boninites with respect to time, continental growth (dotted line), and relative global heat production (dash-dot line). This model is taken from the Hall and Hughes (1990b, 1993).

Figure 2: World-wide distribution of Neoarchean-Paleoproterozoic boninite-norite suites emplaced within the Archean craton. See Table 2 for other details and references.

Figure 3: Comparison of Primordial-mantle normalized multi-element spidergrams of average values of boninite-norite suites reported world-wide. Primordial-mantle values are taken from McDonough et al. (1992). See Table 3 for data source.

As discussed earlier, the Neoarchean-Paleoproterozoic high-Mg norites (BN suites) are genetically associated with boninitic rocks and probably derived from a boninitic-type parental magma (Hall and Hughes, 1987, 1990b, 1993; Srivastava, 2006, 2008). It is noted that the boninite-norite (BN) suite differ significantly from Archean komatiite and no genetic association is established between them (Hall et al., 1987; Hall and Hughes, 1990b). Archean komatiites are derived from a high-degree of partial melting of a peridotite source (e.g., Arndt et al., 2008; Cattell and Taylor, 1990; Bickle, 1990), whereas the BN suite of rocks is derived from a depleted refractory mantle which is enhanced by the metasomatism by subduction associated with the assembly at ca. 2.7 Ga of many Archean cratons (e.g., Hall and Hughes, 1990b, Srivastava, 2006).

Smithies et al. (2004) concluded that modern (Phanerozoic) boninites and ancient (Precambrian) high-Mg norites (BN suite) have different petrogenesis. They further suggest that the Archean Whundo type boninite has very similar petrogenetic process as that of modern boninites and may be considered as closest Archean analogues of modern boninites, and to be derived from metasomatism of previously depleted lithosphere in a subduction setting. However, the Whitney-type ‘boninites’ (high-Mg norites) are postulated to have been derived from an extremely depleted garnet-rich source and may be generated by plume-induced melting of (subduction modified?) refractory mantle.

Relation of BN suites with Large Igneous Provinces and Supercontinent breakup

Each of the types of Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic BN suites with an intracratonic setting has been inferred to be part of a Large Igneous Province (LIP) which also includes major associated basaltic magmatism as well. Ernst and Buchan (2001) have listed a number of large mafic magmatic events (LIPs) induced by mantle plume heads during end of Archean and thereafter (2.6-2.2 Ga); this includes the BN events listed in Table 2: e.g., Great Dyke (Zimbabwe), Vestfold Hills and Napier complex (East Antarctica), Greenland, Fennoscandian shield, Stillwater, Bushveld, Wyoming Province, Slave Province, São Francisco craton (Brazil), eastern Dharwar craton, and others.

As it has been well shown in the younger record (e.g., Ernst and Bleeker 2010: Ernst 2013) every major breakup margin of supercontinents is associated with a LIP.  Therefore, the presence of these BN suites is evidence in support of the breakup during the Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic of a late Archean supercontinent or multiple continents (also termed supercratons; Bleeker 2003). More specifically, Bleeker (2003) has rightly pointed out that a number of ancient cratons were together at the end of Archean and across the Archean-Proterozoic boundary as a supercraton, and Bleeker and Ernst (2006) showed that the breakup history of these Archean supercratons can be linked to the associated LIPs.


Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic boninite-noritic (BN) intrusions and related SHMB (siliceous high magnesium basalts) volcanic rocks are reported from many Archean terrains around the world. Most of them are emplaced in an intracratonic tectonic setting, and have been considered as parts of Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs). It is noted that the end of widespread komatiite magmatism at the end of Neoarchean is associated with the onset of the period of BN magmatism globally. Then at about 2 Ga BN magmatism becomes rare. The timing of BN magmatism is linked to crustal thickening and associated cratonization at the end of the Archean. Prior to this cratonization event an extensive extraction of mafic magma developed refractory mantle. Later, this refractory mantle was metasomatised by subduction associated with the assembly at ca. 2.7 Ga of many Archean cratons. Eventually partial melting of metasomatised refractory mantle, due to the arrival of mantle plumes, produced boninite-type melts during Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic. Furthermore the intracratonic setting of BN magmatism and the link with LIPs (which are robustly linked with continental breakup) suggests that the BN magmatism during the Neoarchean–Paleoproterozoic is associated with the breakup of late Archean continents.


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