Some major problems with existing models and terminology associated with kimberlite pipes from a volcanological perspective, and some suggestions

R. A. F. Cas, P. Hayman, A. Pittari, L. Porritt

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

57 Citations (Scopus)


Five significant problems hinder advances in understanding of the volcanology of kimberlites: (1) kimberlite geology is very model driven; (2) a highly genetic terminology drives deposit or facies interpretation; (3) the effects of alteration on preserved depositional textures have been grossly underestimated; (4) the level of understanding of the physical process significance of preserved textures is limited; and, (5) some inferred processes and deposits are not based on actual, modem volcanological processes. These issues need to be addressed in order to advance understanding of kimberlite volcanological pipe forming processes and deposits.

The traditional, steep-sided southern African pipe model (Class 1) consists of a steep tapering pipe with a deep root zone, a middle diatreme zone and an upper crater zone (if preserved). Each zone is thought to be dominated by distinctive facies, respectively: hypabyssal kimberlite (HK, descriptively called here massive coherent porphyritic kimberlite), tuffisitic kimberlite breccia, (TKB, descriptively here called massive, poorly sorted lapilli tuff) and crater zone facies, which include variably bedded pyroclastic kimberlite and resedimented and reworked volcaniclastic kimberlite (RVK). Porphyritic coherent kimberlite may, however, also be emplaced at different levels in the pipe, as later stage intrusions, as well as dykes in the surrounding country rock. The relationship between HK and TKB is not always clear. Sub-terranean fluidisation as an emplacement process is a largely unsubstantiated hypothesis; modem in-vent volcanological processes should initially be considered to explain observed deposits. Crater zone volcaniclastic deposits can occur within the diatreme zone of some pipes, indicating that the pipe was largely empty at the end of the eruption, and subsequently began to fill-in largely through resedimentation and sourcing of pyroclastic deposits from nearby vents. Classes II and III Canadian kimberlite models have a more factual, descriptive basis, but are still inadequately documented given the recency of their discovery. The diversity amongst kimberlite bodies suggests that a three-model classification is an over-simplification.

Every kimberlite is altered to varying degrees, which is an intrinsic consequence of the ultrabasic composition of kimberlite and the in-vent context; few preserve original textures. The effects of syn- to post-emplacement alteration on original textures have not been adequately considered to date, and should be back-stripped to identify original textural elements and configurations. Applying sedimentological textural configurations as a guide to emplacement processes would be useful.

The traditional terminology has many connotations about spatial position in pipe and of process. Perhaps the traditional terminology can be retained in the industrial situation as a general lithofacies-mining terminological scheme because it is so entrenched. However, for research purposes a more descriptive lithofacies terminology should be adopted to facilitate detailed understanding of deposit characteristics, important variations in these, and the process origins. For example every deposit of TKB is different in componentry, texture, or depositional structure. However, because so many deposits in many different pipes are called TKB, there is an implication that they are all similar and that similar processes were involved, which is far from clear. (c) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-225
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2008


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