Giant magmatic water reservoirs at mid-crustal depth inferred from electrical conductivity and the growth of the continental crust

Mickael Laumonier*, Fabrice Gaillard, Duncan Muir, Jon Blundy, Martyn Unsworth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)
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The formation of the continental crust at subduction zones involves the differentiation of hydrous mantle-derived magmas through a combination of crystallization and crustal melting. However, understanding the mechanisms by which differentiation occurs at depth is hampered by the inaccessibility of the deep crust in active continental arcs. Here we report new high-pressure electrical conductivity and petrological experiments on hydrated andesitic melt from Uturuncu volcano on the Bolivian Altiplano. By applying our results to regional magnetotelluric data, we show that giant conductive anomalies at mid-crustal levels in several arcs are characterized by relatively low amounts of intergranular andesitic partial melts with unusually high dissolved water contents (≥8 wt.% H2O). Below Uturuncu, the Altiplano-Puna Magma Body (APMB) displays an electrical conductivity that requires high water content (up to 10 wt.%) dissolved in the melt based on crystal-liquid equilibria and melt H2O solubility experiments. Such a super-hydrous andesitic melt must constitute about 10% of the APMB, the remaining 90% being a combination of magmatic cumulates and older crustal rocks. The crustal ponding level of these andesites at around 6 kbar pressure implies that on ascent through the crust hydrous magmas reach their water saturation pressure in the mid-crust, resulting in decompression-induced crystallization that increases magma viscosity and in turn leads to preferential stalling and differentiation. Similar high conductivity features are observed beneath the Cascades volcanic arc and Taupo Volcanic Zone. This suggests that large amounts of water in super-hydrous andesitic magmas could be a common feature of active continental arcs and may illustrate a key step in the structure and growth of the continental crust. One Sentence Summary: Geophysical, laboratory conductivity and petrological experiments reveal that deep electrical conductivity anomalies beneath the Central Andes, Cascades and Taupo Volcanic Zone image the ponding of super-hydrous andesitic melts which contributes to the growth of continental crust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-180
Number of pages8
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date26 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • electrical conductivity
  • water
  • andesite
  • continental crust growth
  • arc magmas


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