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Petrological and experimental evidence for differentiation of water-rich magmas beneath St. Kitts, Lesser Antilles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number98
Number of pages32
JournalContributions to Mineralogy and Petrology
Issue number11-12
Early online date10 Nov 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 20 Oct 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 10 Nov 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Dec 2017


St. Kitts lies in the northern Lesser Antilles, a subduction-related intraoceanic volcanic arc known for its magmatic diversity and unusually abundant cognate xenoliths. We combine the geochemistry of xenoliths, melt inclusions and lavas with high pressure–temperature experiments to explore magma differentiation processes beneath St. Kitts. Lavas range from basalt to rhyolite, with predominant andesites and basaltic andesites. Xenoliths, dominated by calcic plagioclase and amphibole, typically in reaction relationship with pyroxenes and olivine, can be divided into plutonic and cumulate varieties based on mineral textures and compositions. Cumulate varieties, formed primarily by the accumulation of liquidus phases, comprise ensembles that represent instantaneous solid compositions from one or more magma batches; plutonic varieties have mineralogy and textures consistent with protracted solidification of magmatic mush. Mineral chemistry in lavas and xenoliths is subtly different. For example, plagioclase with unusually high anorthite content (An≤100) occurs in some plutonic xenoliths, whereas the most calcic plagioclase in cumulate xenoliths and lavas are An97 and An95, respectively. Fluid-saturated, equilibrium crystallisation experiments were performed on a St. Kitts basaltic andesite, with three different fluid compositions (XH2O = 1.0, 0.66 and 0.33) at 2.4 kbar, 950–1025 °C, and fO2 = NNO − 0.6 to NNO + 1.2 log units. Experiments reproduce lava liquid lines of descent and many xenolith assemblages, but fail to match xenolith and lava phenocryst mineral compositions, notably the very An-rich plagioclase. The strong positive correlation between experimentally determined plagioclase-melt KdCa–Na and dissolved H2O in the melt, together with the occurrence of Al-rich mafic lavas, suggests that parental magmas were water-rich (> 9 wt% H2O) basaltic andesites that crystallised over a wide pressure range (1.5–6 kbar). Comparison of experimental and natural (lava, xenolith) mafic mineral composition reveals that whereas olivine in lavas is predominantly primocrysts precipitated at low-pressure, pyroxenes and spinel are predominantly xenocrysts formed by disaggregation of plutonic mushes. Overall, St. Kitts xenoliths and lavas testify to mid-crustal differentiation of low-MgO basalt and basaltic andesite magmas within a trans-crustal, magmatic mush system. Lower crustal ultramafic cumulates that relate parental low-MgO basalts to primary, mantle -derived melts are absent on St. Kitts.

    Research areas

  • Cumulates, Differentiation of basaltic andesite, Experiments, High-An plagioclase, Xenolith, ‘Magma mush’

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